Your blueprint for improvement

10th January 1997 at 00:00
Besides asking teachers what they felt about the political parties and their policies, our researchers asked what they thought needed to be done to bring about real improvements in schools.

Each group was asked to draw up its own mini-manifesto, setting out a programme it would like to see implemented by the next government.

The main results are reflected in the "manifesto" published on this page. Not surprisingly, it reflects the teachers' list of worries, indicating what is wrong in education and where, in their view, extra investment is needed.

Class sizes and nursery education are cited as important concerns in all parts of the country. Every manifesto proposes reducing class sizes to a maximum of 30. Some go further by setting a maximum as low as 25. Secondary teachers in two groups call for smaller classes for practical groups.

All but one group call for expansion of nursery education. Most of these want a commitment to provide places for all four-year-olds. One group calls for this to be extended to three-year-olds, another simply calls for properly funded nursery education, while another calls for primary and nursery education to be given priority.

Although support for early years investment gained most support among primary teachers, there was clear backing, too, from secondary teachers, especially women.

Perhaps significantly, one group of women secondary teachers in Hertfordshire, said teaching in the early years should concentrate on the basics, just maths and English, with better training at college on how to teach spelling and grammar.

Doing something to address what is widely perceived as a service badly run down after many years of under-investment figures strongly. There is less consensus, however, about how this should be brought about. One group simply calls for more money to be put into the system, while another takes its cue from the Liberal Democrats' promise to put 1p on income tax, if necessary, to pay for extra investment. This would raise an extra #163;2 billion a year.

Action to bring the country's crumbling school building stock up to scratch is also strongly urged in several manifestos, including a proposal to set minimum building standards.

While improved funding, class sizes and conditions at work are priorities,another key wish is to do something about the declining status of teaching as a profession. According to one group at least, the most important resource in any school is the teacher - and it should be properly valued.

A package of measures to improve in-service (and initial) training and career prospects, and raise the morale and status of teachers, features strongly.

Improved training and resources for teachers are seen as part and parcel of enabling them to implement changes and improvements, and deal with big issues such as discipline and truancy. Improved training is also seen as a way of learning to deal with an increased administrative workload.

Most teachers see increased pay as a way of restoring pride and respect to a profession they believe is falling behind other comparable ones, notably the police. As one manifesto puts it: "Salary levels should be able to attract the best people, but don't." Teachers in the Glasgow group called for an independent pay review body for Scotland.

Another common manifesto wish is linked to the issue of professional esteem. Teachers in the focus groups overwhelmingly see the Office for Standards in Education as leading the chorus of blame against the profession.

They almost certainly share the view of Sir Bryan Nicholson, a former president of the Confederation of British Industry, who last week accused the new school inspection service of acting like Anneka Rice, diving in, shaking everything up and then helicopter ing off to its next assignment.

The teachers propose a replacement body for OFSTED that would provide advice and support for schools as well as checking on standards.

Perhaps surprisingly, changes to the national curriculum did not figure in the manifesto groups, despite concerns from many teachers in general discussion about workload and constant changes in curriculum, teaching and management. Teachers seem to accept that many of the reforms, especially the national curriculum, will remain.

While two groups raised concerns about lack of funds for special needs, only one - a group of Bristol primary teachers, shortly to be in the firing line - wanted a manifesto commitment to scrapping school league tables.

As well as wanting additional funding for schools, the Sheffield group wanted to see it distributed fairly among primary and secondary schools, as well as advantaged and disadvantaged ones.

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