Andrew is editor of Labour Teachers. Details of a book of essays on education policy he contributed to can be found here.
Back in half term, we followed up the election defeat with a series of posts by teachers who hadn’t voted Labour in at least one of the last two general elections, but would consider it in the future. The request was that they comment on education policies which might convince them to vote Labour, although people often wrote more broadly. The posts can be found here:
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Why I spoiled my ballot | @jcoleman85
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Floating Away | @HeatherBellaF
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Labour Dos and Don’ts | @stephanootis
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: I’m not that bothered about Labour losing because I’m most interested in education | @StuartLock
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Teacher Recruitment | @miss_trainee
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Dyed in the Wool but Angry | @kennypieper
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Confessions of a Swinging Voter | @HoratioSpeaks
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Educational policy should be devised at the front line | @leonardjamesuk
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: What education policies could make you vote Labour next time? | @steveadcock81
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Irreverence on Irrelevance | @Bottoms_bray
- FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: A bonus post | @Miss_Snuffy
Obviously these posts are in no way a representative sample of any real demographic other than, perhaps, bloggers I personally happen to get on with. But I thought it might be worth drawing out some of the recurring themes and giving my personal response to some of the issues raised.
Firstly, there were several references to moving power over aspects of education from politicians to experts (although one post also talked about taking it away from experts and giving it to teachers). This is also something that is constantly being suggested in posts submitted to Labour Teachers from Labour supporting teachers. There is a real problem if those in education have given up on the possibility that representative democracy can deliver the right outcomes in education, and only some form of technocratic dictatorship can work. However, I’m not inclined to sympathise. As political activists we should stand up for politics as a means to get things done. The answer to a loss of faith in politics has got to be further efforts to be get politicians listening to teachers, not to give power to bureaucrats and vested interests. That is largely what happened between 2001 and 2010, and while many managers, bureaucrats and consultants see that as a golden era, it was an era where classroom teachers were actively deterred from doing anything but following orders and keeping their mouths shut about what was going on in schools. Thanks to social media, I don’t think we can ever go back to that as the power of vested interests in the system to silence teachers is now gone. The enlightened dictators would get as much hassle as the politicians do, and if they couldn’t respond to it, the politicians would soon take power back.
Secondly, there were a number of teachers willing to defend some of Gove’s reforms. It is probably one of the great mythical narratives of modern politics, that teachers as a whole, opposed all of the education reforms since 2010. There have always been genuine disagreements in the teaching profession and backing the education establishment is not the same as backing teachers. As teachers get used to living without Ofsted lesson grades, worthless vocational qualifications and controlled assessments and find nothing inherently frightening about working for schools that aren’t closely tied to local authorities, the enthusiasm to turn back the clock is only likely to diminish. Labour needs a way to respond to education reform that does not alienate those who supported it, or divide schools and teachers into “goodies” and “baddies”. Perhaps a starting point for this would be to look at parental aspirations first, then ask how they can be delivered, rather than looking at what people with power in the system want to deliver and trying to persuade parents (and voters) they should want it.
Thirdly, there were posts that seemed to skip talking about educational policy and expressed a loss of faith in the Labour Party. They talked about a disconnection between Labour and its traditional voters. I think such a schism cannot be denied. A Labour Party that was less middle class and London based might go some way to resolving this. What I would warn against is the idea that we can recover lost support by swerving to the left. If that was the case, and that disillusioned ex-Labour voters were all left behind by a right-wing party then, as the graph below shows, we should have been picking up votes over the last ten years, not losing them.
Finally, and again this is a point that is not specifically about education (although it has parallels there), a number of contributors commented on the tendency of Labour supporters to denigrate those who don’t immediately agree with them. Whilst I don’t have a problem with a fairly combative debate, we must be aware that proclaiming our moral superiority over our opponents is far from persuasive. We are too keen to assume that, where others differ with us, it is because they lack our compassion or a raised consciousness, rather than because our arguments have failed to persuade. Moral purpose is fine, but not if it leads us onto our high horses. No party ever won an election without being able to talk to voters about their own interests; not because voters are terribly selfish, but because politicians are deeply unconvincing as arbiters of morality. We need to be a choice people make because they want competent government, not because they want to demonstrate their laudable character.
If you have a different opinion on the issues here, or any others raised in the Floating Voters Week posts don’t hesitate to comment below. If you are a Labour supporting teacher and would like to submit a 700 word blogpost in response, please get in touch.