Party manifestos out of touch with teachers' views

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Teachers are sending a clear message to politicians that they want more stability and less change.

The National Foundation for Educational Research's latest survey shows that educational manifestos are out of touch with teachers' views on education.

The NFER asked over 1,400 primary and secondary teachers in England about their views on the future direction of education policy in England, and what the three main priorities for primary and secondary education should be for the next government.

According to teachers, top priorities for an incoming government are more support for teachers to do their job and a reduction in the number of new initiatives coming from Whitehall.

Manifesto pledges that would re-shape the structure of schools in England were generally rated a ‘bad idea’ by teachers. Secondary teachers have seen the roll out of Labour’s Academy programme, for example, but now two-thirds of them feel that plans to expand and extend the programme and encourage setting up new Academies by a range of providers (as suggested by both Labour and Conservative parties) are also a ‘bad idea’.

There is also little support for measures to spread excellence through mergers and take-overs of schools, with just 8% of teachers thinking this is a ‘good idea’, 46% that it is a ‘bad idea’ and the remainder being ‘unsure’.

The strongest criticism from teachers was reserved for Labour’s specific manifesto proposal to enable parents to trigger a ballot to bring in a new school leadership team, with 80% of all respondents believing this to be a ‘bad idea’.

Half of secondary teachers and a quarter of primary teachers rated improving pupil behaviour as one of their top three priorities for an incoming government.  This compares with just 11% of teachers suggesting that raising attainment levels should be a top priority and only 7% feeling that tackling underperformance by pupils and/or schools should be a priority.

In both primary and secondary schools there was strong support for manifesto pledges to strengthen Home-School Agreements to help enforce discipline, with over 80% of teachers rating this as a ‘good idea’. Originally part of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, strengthened Home-School Agreements were dropped when the Government and opposition parties failed to reach agreement during the wash-up session of the last Parliament.

NFER’s Peter Rudd said: “Teachers are entitled to ask why strengthening Home-School Agreements, which appear to enjoy cross-party support, could not have been enacted in the last Parliament. However, their overall message is clear – more support, stabilising policy and reducing initiatives rank far more highly than suggestions of change.”

About 40% of teachers weren’t sure whether raising the academic entry requirements for teacher training was a ‘good idea’ or not. A third rated it good, but about a quarter rated it as a bad one. The Conservatives are not alone in seeking to raise the status of the teaching profession, as Labour is proposing to introduce a Licence to Teach and the Liberal Democrats are also keen to attract more top graduates into teaching.

The Liberal Democrat plans to replace the National Curriculum with a slimmed down Minimum Curriculum Entitlement was popular, in particular with 65% of primary teachers thinking this was a ‘good idea’. Labour’s plans for replacing the existing Primary Curriculum with less prescriptive Areas of Learning were dropped from the Children, Schools and Families Bill before Parliament was dissolved. For Labour, this could now be seen as a missed opportunity to introduce curriculum reform that enjoyed the support of the majority of teachers.

Ed Balls is justified in pressing on with plans for guaranteed catch-up support. Three-quarters of teachers think that Labour’s pledge to introduce guaranteed catch-up support for pupils who are falling behind in the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) is a ‘good idea’. This was another measure dropped at the last minute from the Children Schools and Families Bill when cross-party agreement could not be secured.

The survey revealed that this measure enjoys support from primary and secondary teachers as well as both senior leaders and classroom teachers.

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