Labour best for schools, say teachers

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Indy Politics
Labour is winning over the electorate on education issues but teachers have abandoned their old loyalties to the Tories, according to two polls published today.

A Harris opinion poll commissioned by the 150,000-strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in the run-up to its annual conference next week, put Labour well ahead of its rivals on four key education policy issues.

Of more than 1,000 voters interviewed, more trusted Labour than either of the other main parties to invest more cash in schools, get the best out of teachers, offer the best job prospects for children and raise the quality of education.

Almost 60 per cent thought Labour would increase schools spending, giving the party a 34-point lead over the Conservatives, though Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, has pledged to stick to the Government's public spending targets for two years. Tony Blair, the Labour leader, has promised to give education a bigger slice of the cake after five years.

The Conservatives trailed in third place, behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with 48 per cent of the public believing they would not deliver on any of the key questions posed.

An ICM poll, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, found that nearly 40 per cent of 530 teachers questioned last month said they had not decided how to vote. Of those who did declare their intentions, 59 per cent said they would vote Labour, 21 per cent Liberal Democrat and 15 per cent Conservative.

Doug McAvoy, the NUT's general secretary, said: "Back in 1979, there was a very significant level of support among teachers for the Conservative Party. The message to the political parties is that there is a teachers' vote still out there and it is for them to declare their policies over the next few weeks to attract that vote."

Teachers put more funding for schools and lower class sizes at the top of their list of priorities. He suggested figures showing that 85 per cent of teachers aged 22-34 were satisfied with their jobs, compared with only 43 per cent of the over-45s, reflected the fact that older teachers could remember "what seemed like a golden age" before the Conservatives came to power.

He also warned that teachers' unions would take on a Labour government if it refused to supply enough money for schools. "We shall put the same pressure about funding on any government, irrespective of its colour. We shall try to persuade Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, when he prepares his first budget, that education needs more."

Peter Smith, general secretary of the ATL, urged David Blunkett, the party's education spokesman, to use the first 100 days of a Labour government to hold a "summit meeting" with the profession. "He has a huge opportunity to call together all the key figures and be absolutely candid with them; tell them what can be done in year one and ask them what their priorities are," he said.