Why My Party's Best: the battle for the teachers' vote

16th April 2010 at 01:00
As the general election campaign gathers pace, three of those on the front line of the political debate lay out their stalls


`I would hate to see a Tory government take us back to where we were before 1997' - Naz Sarkar, Maths secondary teacher and Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Reading West

I have been a secondary school mathematics teacher for 10 years now, and I know I wouldn't have joined the profession if it hadn't been for Labour.

At a student union careers fair I met a woman from the Teacher Training Agency whose name or face I don't remember but who had one of the most profound impacts on my life.

I had done the rounds of management consultant and accountancy stalls (no offence to them) and thought I would sit down and talk to a teacher because, although I'd never thought about teaching, I wanted to have a break.

Gradually, talking to her I started to have one of those life-changing moments. I had always wanted a job that worked with, and helped, people, something meaningful.

But a critical aspect of this was that, because of incentives introduced by Labour, there was pound;6,000 to train and a pound;4,000 golden hello after a year. Without the money I just couldn't have afforded to do it.

Although I know if you raise the subject in the staffroom some would differ, 12 years of Labour government has changed education and put the money where it matters.

They have rebuilt, or begun to rebuild, practically every school - an enormous achievement. Staff-to-pupil ratios have improved radically and interactive whiteboards have been put in classrooms. We can all reel off statistics but it is a change that as a teacher you can really feel and pupils feel it too.

I visited a pioneering new pound;3.5 million facility for 16 to 18-year-olds taking vocational courses. It had a new media suite which journalists would envy and a car mechanics garage.

There is no way that, for all their talk, a Tory government would have financed such a resource - their decision to drop vocational courses from the league table measure for schools shows they do not even pretend to take them as seriously.

It's easy to take the change that has happened for granted or imagine that it would have happened anyway. I would hate to see a Tory government take us back to where we were before 1997 and see all that work unravel.


`Did you want to join a profession constantly being pushed and pulled by whatever educational buzzword happened to be in vogue?' - Steven Mastin, History secondary teacher in Cambridgeshire and prospective parliamentary candidate for Redcar

Why did you become a teacher? To confront violent pupils? Personal, learning and thinking skills? Or - last try - was it because you wanted to join a profession that was constantly being pushed and pulled by whatever educational buzzword happened to be in vogue?

Despite everything thrown at us - the targets, strategies and initiatives, the challenging behaviour, long hours - the level of job satisfaction remains high. Why? If, like me, you became a teacher because you relished the challenge of inspiring young minds, you know why. I love history and wanted to share my passion with young people, to encourage them to love history as well, to realise their potential and to make the most of their lives. Every day is full of fresh opportunities.

Every child should have the chance to be introduced to the best that has been thought and said. And yet of those pupils eligible for free school meals - the poorest in our country - 40 per cent did not get a single `C' grade at GCSE.

This is a massive waste of talent and an offence against social justice. And the arguments for a return to grammar schools expose their advocates as being utterly unconcerned with these pupils, only thinking of the 20 per cent who would make it past selection.

So why should teachers support the Conservative Party's campaign for change? Surely teachers do not want more change; they want to be left alone.

I believe a Conservative government would give teachers greater freedom over the curriculum, enhanced professional standing, and more control over their schools.

To do this, three changes must be made:

slim down the national curriculum and protect subjects;

more free, non-selective, high-quality state schools open to all;

moratorium on closure of special schools.

Teachers have a choice at the election: more incessant meddling by Schools Secretary Ed Balls, or real change that will empower us and our schools to help our children aim higher.

Lib Dem

`An Education Freedom Act would devolve powers from Whitehall to schools and LAs' - Helen Flynn, Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Skipton and Ripon and national executive member of the Campaign for State Education

In a policy space increasingly occupied by ideology and debate over school structures rather than evidence-based policy and pedagogy, the Lib Dems are well set apart from the two other main parties in their education election guarantees.

We will introduce a pupil premium, spending an extra pound;2.5 billion on schools, and guaranteeing them the money they need to support children who are struggling. It will be used to target schools taking on children who need more help, and can be used to cut class sizes.

The national curriculum is massive (600 pages), overly-prescriptive and limits teachers' professional judgment and ability to shape their own curriculum. We would introduce a light touch, 20-page `minimum curriculum guarantee', enabling schools to decide and shape the best curriculum to offer their pupils. Core educational provision would be specified from ages seven to 19, with greater freedom for schools to be innovative in their approach to non-core content.

We would introduce a new general diploma (along the lines of the recommendations in the Tomlinson Report) for all children in state-funded schools and colleges, to create a 14-19 qualifications framework that gives real choice to young people and meets the needs of employers and universities.

The testing and assessment regime would be overhauled, with a greater reliance on teacher assessment, to focus on pupil needs and not just on school accountability.

A `CPD entitlement' of pound;500 per teacher per year would use monies shifted from current top-down government initiatives.

The existing highly complex and bureaucratic national teacher pay and conditions would be reformed and simplified, including freedom to offer financial and other incentives to attract teachers, particularly in shortage subjects and in the most challenging areas.

An Education Freedom Act would be passed to devolve powers from Whitehall to schools and local authorities. The Whitehall department would be reduced by around 50 per cent, and the 18 per cent of the education budget held nationally would be devolved to schools and local authorities.

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