Teachers wary of Labour's reforms

Crisis of morale and recruitment are identified as priorities in profession weary after decade of change
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The Independent Online
Educationists and union leaders yesterday warned that an incoming Labour government would need to tackle the crisis of morale among teachers if education reforms were to succeed.

Responding to the announcement by the Labour leader, Tony Blair, that an education Bill would be his party's priority legislation, they said the proposals paid too little attention to teachers' weariness of change and renewed warnings that Labour would have to commit more resources to make the changes a reality.

Professor Peter Mortimore, director of London University's Institute of Education, said more money was needed to back up the party's warm words. He said: "This will be much more convincing if it is accompanied by additional resources. Just saying it is a priority is not enough."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers, said that his members would welcome moves to reduce class sizes and introduce headteachers' qualifications. But Mr Blair failed to realise how reform-weary teachers were. "Without additional resources a lot of the reforms he proposes are pie in the sky. Many of them require improvement in teachers' morale, and that is not going to come cheaply. We require better conditions, better pay, overall more trust and less workload."

Labour's confirmation that the controversial Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, disliked by many in the education establishment, would keep his job if the party won the election indicated that it intended to continue the present government's policy of interfering unduly in schools' activities, Mr de Gruchy said. News that Mr Woodhead, best known for declaring that 15,000 teachers should be sacked for incompetence, is to stay will do little to raise morale. However, Labour sources yesterday insisted that in recent months the chief inspector had shifted towards a less confrontational stance more in tune with the party's view that teachers needed support as well as pressure to improve.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said an incoming Labour government would have to address the crisis of recruitment and morale. He said: "Teachers are thoroughly sick and tired of being battered by ... perpetual criticism and by being expected to deliver higher and higher standards with less and less resources."

Educationists echoed union leaders' calls for a change of style in education policy-making, switching a top-down approach for a stronger partnership with schools and local authorities. Professor Mortimore said: "I welcome the commitment to education, but warn both main parties that they need to handle education matters rather more sensitively than in the past. Teachers feel pushed and pulled around."

Birmingham's chief education officer, Professor Tim Brighouse, condemned the practice of "legislation followed by circular" from central government, which sapped teachers' energy.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, Labour's education spokesman David Blunkett insisted that "success will lift morale as teachers know they are valued in doing the job of lifting standards".