`To win back trust, politicians need to stop posturing'

27th February 2015 at 00:00
75 per cent of teachers feel Westminster doesn't care about young people

Politicians have little or no regard for young people when it comes to developing policies, according to teachers.

A straw poll by TES reveals that just over three-quarters of the profession does not believe political parties have the best interests of young people in mind when they are deciding strategy.

The start of the year has been dominated by speeches on education by the leaders of the three main parties, setting out their stalls ahead of May's general election.

Prime minister David Cameron has talked tough on standards, even suggesting that headteachers of schools judged "requires improvement" by Ofsted could lose their jobs if standards did not improve rapidly enough. And in an exclusive interview with TES last week, Labour leader Ed Miliband claimed that a Labour government would offer teachers a "new beginning".

All three party leaders have promised to protect school spending during the next Parliament, with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg pledging to ring-fence funding for learners aged 3-19 should the Liberal Democrats come to power. But closer scrutiny of the policies has shown that they would all be likely to lead to a real-terms cut, owing either to rising inflation or to growing pupil numbers.

Two-thirds of respondents on the TES political panel said their voting decision was influenced primarily by education policy. Emma Hardy, a teacher at Willerby Carr Lane Primary School in Hull, said the survey results reflected the mood of "cynicism and mistrust" toward politicians.

"People tend to believe that politicians are motivated by what the electorate wants to hear rather than what would actually help," Ms Hardy said. "If this government truly cared about education they wouldn't threaten to sack headteachers if each child cannot recite their times tables. It's political posturing to gain votes, not a serious attempt to improve education.

"To win back the trust of teachers, politicians would have to stop posturing and outdoing each other."

The results of the TES poll of 350 teachers will add weight to the argument that politicians are ignoring young people. Figures published by the British Election Study last month show how young people have become less engaged with politics: in 1987, over-65s were 9.4 per cent more likely to vote than under-25s; by 2010, the gap had widened to 22.9 per cent.

Jonathan Simons, head of the education unit at thinktank Policy Exchange, worked on developing policy in the Cabinet Office and served in both the Gordon Brown and David Cameron administrations. He said young people could lose out to the older generation on "political goodies" because they were less likely to vote.

"But when it comes to the motivations of [Labour education spokesman Tristram] Hunt, [education secretary Nicky] Morgan et al, in all my direct experience I've never met a politician who doesn't care deeply about young people when they're setting policy," Mr Simons added. "Sometimes that does mean making tough decisions."

Roy Blatchford, director of education charity the National Education Trust, has called for a "National Education Service" to be created, similar to the NHS, in order to protect schools from policy churn caused by the "five-year electoral cycle".

"Only when we take party politics out of schools will we achieve lasting education reform and intelligent education policy-making," Mr Blatchford said. "The nation's health and education services should no longer be subject to short-term political manoeuvring."

Want a job done well? Do it yourself.

For teachers disillusioned with politicians' meddling in education, finding a candidate to vote for on 7 May could prove difficult. Several of them, however, have decided to take matters into their own hands - by standing for Parliament.

Caroline Kolek, who teaches RE, sociology and philosophy at the Taunton Academy in Somerset, is Labour's candidate for Tiverton and Honiton. Her "epiphany" came after watching an interview with chancellor George Osborne about austerity. "I was absolutely livid," said the executive member of the ATL teaching union. "I see children coming to school hungry and the impact that government policy has on them."

Classroom behaviour management strategies could come in handy, Ms Kolek added. "The behaviour during Prime Minister's Questions is appalling. There's no way I would put up with that as a teacher."

Also standing for Labour is Ken Rustidge, an NUT regional official in Lincolnshire, who is contesting the seat of North East Cambridgeshire. But three of Mr Rustidge's colleagues on the union's executive have opted to represent the left-wing Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition: Martin Powell-Davies is running in Lewisham West and Penge, Anne Lemon in Bristol North West and Pete Glover in Bootle.

"There needs to be an alternative to austerity, academisation and privatisation," said Mr Powell-Davies, who teaches physics at Conisborough College.

The aspiring MPs are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Labour's Kevin Brennan, who taught at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff before becoming shadow schools minister. His colleague Nic Dakin was previously principal of Scunthorpe's John Leggott College, and Conservative MP Andrew Percy taught history before being elected in 2010. Stephen Exley

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