Teachers 'will be celebrated instead of attacked'

Conservative Party Conference: Education
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Indy Politics

The Conservative Party will call a halt to its attacks on Britain's teachers today as part of its campaign to regain the voters' trust on public services.

Damian Green, the Tories' education spokesman, will tell the party's conference in Blackpool: "We should celebrate our teachers, instead of knocking them. We all know that there are huge problems in our schools. But it is an easy, lazy and dishonest approach to blame the teachers." Mr Green's comments mark a significant change of tack by the Tories, and are the first sign of the drive promised by Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, to put services such as education and health at the top of the party's agenda.

Senior Tories admit they were wrong to virtually ignore public services during the general election campaign and they are trying to send a message from the annual conference in Blackpool that the party is addressing "the issues that matter to ordinary people".

The shadow Education Secretary, who backed Michael Portillo's bid for the Tory leadership, is the most senior moderate in the Shadow Cabinet, and will play an essential role in the party's attempt to fight back against Labour on the issue of public services.

Pledging that the Tory leadership would not mount any more attacks on teachers, Mr Green will tell party members: "Don't blame the teacher for failing to control a five-year-old who has never heard the word 'no' from an adult at home. Don't blame the teacher for failing to instil learning into teenagers who have to push past drug-dealers at the school gate every day."

He will say that teachers should not be blamed "for being distracted by the never-ending torrent of instructions, guidelines, circulars, warnings, codes of conduct, Green Papers, White Papers, directives, consultations and general helpful hints that come from the Government on a daily basis."

Mr Green will declare: "We won't blame the teacher. Let me make it clear that, while I am doing this job, you will not hear me making any general attacks on teachers or the teaching profession. That will not be the Conservative way."

His speech will be seen as a coded criticism of the attacks on teachers during William Hague's leadership. Allies of Mr Duncan Smith believe the party needlessly alienated millions of public sector workers by criticising professionals struggling to deliver on public services. They now want to build bridges with these workers and their trade unions. Mr Green will highlight what he will call growing evidence of a crisis in teaching, with 40 per cent of teachers leaving the profession in their first three years, one-fifth of teachers who took up their posts this month being "not up to the job", and 5,000 teacher vacancies across the country.

He will also argue that standards and discipline in schools are falling, and cite a survey by the National Union of Teachers showing that 90 per cent of teachers believe discipline has declined.

The education spokesman will blame the Government for flooding teachers with paperwork and bureaucracy. In the first six months of last year, the Department of Education sent out 140 circulars – one for every working day. Mr Green will say that the average working week of a primary school teacher has risen by two hours, to 52.8 hours, in the years since 1996.