They should admit that standards in this country were not rising fast enough to keep up with our competitors, Peter Smith, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers told the union's annual conference in Cardiff.
Mr Smith called on teachers to leave behind some of their "cherished luggage" such as hostility to testing and inspection. He said they would have to change if they wanted to forge a deal with a new government.
Teachers would expect more money for education and more consultation in return for an end to defensiveness and a more open-minded approach to Thatcherite reforms.
Outside the conference he said: "We have to build on the reforms of the Eighties and Nineties rather than harking back to a Hovis advertisement nostalgia, to a period in which everything was wonderful."
Instead of being opposed to national testing, he said, teachers should work to improve it. They had become inward looking because of the way that they had been treated. He likened the profession to a hedgehog which had curled up in a tight prickly ball.
Earlier he told delegates: "Standards have been going up here but in other countries they have been going up even more. As a profession we have to take that on if we are going to be at the cutting edge of a new government. We have to join in their mission for higher achievement."
He added: "We can't be complacent about the worrying number of young people who truant and drop out of the education system after being excluded."
Teachers had to accept that their work would be subject to intense public scrutiny. "It is the price we have to pay for having education and training at the top of the agenda," he said.
He proposed a two or three day summit with David Blunkett, the Labour Education spokesman, if his party won the election. The meeting would thrash out the challenges facing schools.
But he warned Tony Blair, the Labour leader: "If you say before the election that education is at the top of your agenda ... and after the election do not [provide] the means for that, then history will accuse you of duplicity."
Mr Smith said: "Teachers have had enough of being used as pawns always sacrificed early when the going gets tough," and he said that the next government should abandon the notion that teachers were all trendy lefties.
The challenge before a new government was formidable. "No more than two and a half years away from the year 2000 it will have a stark choice. We can continue as we are in a fin de siecle climate of confusion, disillusion and defeatism or we can strike a new deal.
"There is just enough time for us to hit the millennium in the upbeat mood of drive, confidence and national sense of mission we need so urgently."Reuse content