Teachers need protection, say Tories

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The Independent Online

Teachers need to be honest about faults in the exam system if they are to gain more respect and esteem for the profession, the shadow Education Secretary says today.

Michael Gove, in an interview with The Independent to coincide with the start of the teacher union conference season, makes it clear that the priorities of a new Conservative government would be to restore respect for teaching.

Countries that do better than England in international league tables – such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea – are able to recruit top graduates into teaching because the profession is held in higher esteem there.

As a result, one of a new Conservative government's first moves would be to take action to give teachers greater protection, Mr Gove says.

That would involve guaranteeing anonymity for all teachers accused of abuse by pupils, until proven guilty. In addition, there would be a commitment that any investigation into a pupil's allegation would be completed to an agreed timetable. Some teachers have had to wait for up to two years before unfounded allegations are disproved.

Mr Gove also promises action to strengthen teachers' powers to search pupils for weapons or drugs.

"We want to remove from teachers the fear factor of ending up in court or some disciplinary procedure if they intervene," he says.

His pledge coincides with a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, whose conference opens in Liverpool today, which reveals that almost one in four staff have endured physical violence at the hands of a student.

Mr Gove makes it plain that teachers' leaders will have to be more openly critical of items like the "dumbing down" of exam standards to improve their public esteem.

Only last week, Ofqual, the new exams regulatory body, voiced concerns over science GCSEs, saying that questions had become easier and no longer taxed the brightest pupils.

He also argues that it is the duty of organisations like the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Head Teachers – who advocate scrapping tests for 11-year-olds and are threatening to boycott them – to come up with a convincing alternative.

And he rejects the idea that the Conservatives would have to allow private sponsors to make a profit out of running schools if they introduced Swedish-style "independent free schools" – run by a range of private organisations with state funding – in the UK. "People are prepared to become involved for philanthropic and idealistic motives," he says, "so shouldn't we make that the prime goal?"

Senior advisers to the Swedish government, however, have said that they believed allowing people to make a profit out of running schools was essential to the success of the scheme.