Steve Sinnott: Election jitters are ruining Labour's education policy

From a speech by the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers to his annual conference, in Gateshead
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The Independent Online

The Government seems obsessed with the concepts of parent power and choice. The problem with that is that divisions in social class make the idea of school choice and parent power an illusion. Choice rests with those who have the power to make choices.

The Government seems obsessed with the concepts of parent power and choice. The problem with that is that divisions in social class make the idea of school choice and parent power an illusion. Choice rests with those who have the power to make choices.

Parents want the best education for their children. So too do teachers want the best for the children they teach. This is a simple truth but will it be simple for the political parties in the general election?

Election lines are being drawn. Positions are being adopted that are unconnected to the day-to-day realities in our schools. Labour's campaign promise for public services, for the next five years, it seems, is that it will side with the consumers not the producers. Dramatic early effects of the parent power slogan have included the fate of Tomlinson and the sad desire to appease the Confederation of British Industry.

Long-term strategic decisions, crucial to young people, have been taken in the worst possible circumstances. Pre-election jitters have supplanted rational thinking. We have a White Paper that attacks comprehensive education: it opens up class divisions: and closes down life chances. It is the consequence of crude sloganising.

We certainly need a fundamental change in the Government's attitude towards the ethos of public service. That means bringing home to government that it is fundamentally mistaken in its romantic fascination with the private sector. Prime Minister, your advisers are telling you that selection must be reintroduced in the inner cities to keep the middle-classes happy. Bad advice. Talk to us, Tony, not them.

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