In Floating Voters Week we are presenting views from teachers who didn’t vote Labour at one, or both, of the last two general elections. This one is by @HoratioSpeaks, a teacher and author of the Horatio Speaks blog.
According to some policy analysis software on the internet, I was in sympathy with more Labour policies than those of any other party. Just not their education policies.
Hunt’s stubborn retreat to the old position on unqualified teachers is untenable to me. There is too much doubt (in my mind at least) about the way ideology trumps practice in teacher training. We need to overhaul ITT to ensure there is a much stronger emphasis on critical appraisal of practice and research, not just reinforce an establishment that is far too complacent.
I see no point in the dogged opposition to free schools. Labour would be better to address the reasons that people are dissatisfied with current standards in the state sector. Assuming that free schools are set up by people who are competitive middle-class opportunists is very wide of the mark. Some of the most committed teachers I know work in free schools. Often they serve students who are as disadvantaged as any elsewhere. Holding these new institutions to account for delivering an excellent education is the best way to ensure that students benefit – not by picketing or leafleting them, as has happened in some places.
The Coalition reforms to give a more academic curriculum to all students – effectively, to start giving them the kind of education that is enjoyed by the privileged in public schools – seemed like a no-brainer to me. I understand that the way Michael Gove operated alienated some people (he cost my students a lot of grades in 2012 by moving the goalposts at the last minute) but this is a much wider issue than personality or style. And to be honest, whenever I tried to work out what Tristram Hunt was saying, I couldn’t get past a spongy mass of left-leaning rhetoric from a decade or so back that meant . . . nothing. I had visions of Ofsted being reformed to ensure that group work and engagement were right up there in the next revision of the inspection framework.
Possibly the aspect that most put me off supporting Labour was the constant representation of other opinions as being venal and self-interested, as if Labour supporters had a monopoly on compassion, or justice, or anything sensible. I know people in education with a range of views on the best ways to achieve better social mobility, greater equality, and better academic outcomes. Some of them are Labour supporters, some aren’t. Some work in free schools and vote Labour. Some work in state schools and vote Conservative. Why shouldn’t they? How people choose to vote is a complex business, but it is unhelpful to assume moral superiority just because they didn’t tick the same box on the ballot paper. Indeed, the vitriol that some people were prepared to tolerate because it was directed at Tories (I think of that notorious post by Disappointed Idealist) has been a flashing red light to me. Anyone who knows history knows where dehumanisation leads.
I suspect that the new liberal orthodoxy created a false sense of security amongst some Labour supporters; how could anyone in their right mind vote another way? Because – possibly as we get older – we buy the rhetoric less and look at the track record. I hope that the soul-searching and rebuilding that have begun in Labour create a more constructive way forward – one in which the equality the party so loudly espoused really is extended to all parts of society, even the parts it disagrees with.