Friday, 15 January 2010

Teachers desert Labour? Because?

It's difficult to see from where a Labour election victory could come this year. Teachers, perhaps more than any other group, should be the core of the Labour vote. But, as the Guardian reports, rates of teacher support from Labour have fallen from almost a half to one quarter of the profession; Tory support amongst the profession has doubled, and now stands equivalent to Labour's own.

Partly this is the disenchantment in general of the populace in a bleak economic time with talk of cuts; and the preponderance of younger teachers the Guardian reports supporting the Tories simply can't remember the 90s, let alone the 80s; but there must also be a reflection as to why teachers old enough to know better might be prepared to countenance more of those traditional deep and targeted Tory cuts in education we know will come with a Cameron victory.

The usual reason given is initiative fatigue. Starting with Blunkett early in Labour's period in power, an endless spew of well-meaning but demanding and under-resourced pressures were loaded onto teachers, with a matching reduction in autonomy and trust. But this argument is often over-inflated, and my feeling is that there has been something of a rowback on this in recent years: more emphasis on teacher CPD, more sense of collaborative learning, a slow movement towards evidence-based policy (albeit with far to go yet.) But certainly teachers' workload remains too high; the pressure on them incommensurate with the time or support available to achieve it; and the collective national schizophrenia / have-our-cake-and-eat-it which we have about discipline-versus-inclusion means that much student behaviour remains intolerable and insufficiently challenged.

Yet, as the Guardian elsewhere reports, the years of education funding under Labour have not, as the Murdoch press would have you believe, unsuccessful: inner-city students, the most disadvantaged, have done well; particularly the core literacy and numeracy skills, the source of such constant complaint from employers, have massively improved, with a leap from 10% to 40% of inner-city students passing five or more GCSEs including English and Maths. Poor Labour; even this gets reported along the lines of the Lib Dem complaint that this simply means rural schools (and, implicitly even if no-one would dare say it, schools with low ethnic minority populations) are being under-supported. Of course the Lib Dems would say this: they're fighting rural-non-Tory territory, not for Labour urban votes. This claim isn't true; I work in one exact such school, and one in a relatively difficult rural cachement; and though we clearly do not get the resources lavished on urban schools, the wolf is certainly not at the door - not compared to mid-90s levels of funding.

It's really not that bad, teachers - quit whingeing. You may perceive Labour as favouritist, as mission fanatics, and as slave drivers - but study your history to be sure you prefer the Tory alternative. It will mean faint (if veiled) disdain, huge cuts, and only perhaps being left blissfully alone while the minister attends his children's independent school's Speech Day. Your choice.