What will become of the endangered “conservative professor”?

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With the government in crisis and in the face of electoral obliteration, will the “conservative professor” already in danger become a thing of the past? Donna Ferguson tried to find out…

Walk into any school and you will find many teachers desperate for the current political chaos and the impact successive Conservative governments have had on them and their students.

But, there are those who remain optimistic and positive about the leadership of this country.

It is the 4% of teachers who, according to a recent survey by Teacher tapping, would vote Conservative in the next general election. That’s a record – down from 9% in September 2018 – but even so, it’s a curious statistic.

Given the cost of living crisis and economic chaos unleashed by the Conservative government over the past few weeks, we wanted to know why these teachers are still clinging to their true colors blue.

fear of abuse

Perhaps unsurprisingly, teachers voting for the Conservatives are hard to come by.

A keyword search on social media turned up hundreds of posts, but all the teachers said they would never vote Conservative.

None of the teachers’ unions School week contacted could provide us with a conservative voting teacher to interview.

The Conservative Education Society was also unable to help.

A call to Conservative Friends of Education, which has 300 members, yielded four Conservative voting teachers.

James with Kelly Tolhurst and Sir David Evennett

But most agreed to be interviewed only on condition of strict anonymity.

This was due to fear of “abuse”, we were told, “not embarrassment”. Another conservative teacher pulled out after his CEO told him not to participate.

According to Stephen James, an education consultant and former Grade 3 teacher who founded the conservative Friends of Education, many teachers who vote blue prefer not to admit it to their colleagues.

Teachers “hunted” for their political opinions

If they leave even a clue, he says, “they get locked in a corner.” And this is the “tamer side”.

He said “five or six” openly conservative-teachers – who were unwilling to talk to School week – had been “kicked out” of their jobs because of their political opinions.

Some have been repeatedly asked “politically motivated” questions by senior leaders and union representatives such as: “Is this the right place for you? Do you think you belong here? Do your values ​​match those of the school? »

When James was handing out Conservative Party campaign leaflets in 2019, an anonymous letter was sent to the headmaster of his public primary school in Kent suggesting he shouldn’t be teaching children because he was a fascist.

“My manager obviously had to investigate.” The chief then concluded that there was nothing untoward. “It was a huge waste of time,” he added.

Compassionate curators?

James believes there should be room in the education system for diverse opinions and values, and says any vitriol leveled at conservative teachers by their colleagues is both unnecessary and unnecessary: ​​“It is disappointing. And that does not encourage respect for other people’s ideas.

Last week, Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, argued in The Times for “compassionate conservatism”.

He said that’s what ‘our previous prime ministers stood for, including Boris Johnson when he promised to level the UK. The Conservatives must once again become the party of social justice, the real working people’s party in the UK.

Most current and former teachers School week who were spoken to could be characterized as “compassionate conservatives” or “one-nation conservatives.”

Kieran Isaacson, a Conservative party member who teaches humanities at a Catholic secondary school in Barking and Dagenham, said the Government’s top education priority should be ‘properly funded’ free school meals for all children .

“I worry about free school meals for students”

“Many of my students get free school meals. I worry for some of them and their families. Will they come to school hungry? Will they be cold at home?

Isaacson, who comes from a working-class background, also thinks teachers should get a pay rise at least in line with inflation, and would be “strongly supportive” of a strike to get it.

teacher
cunniffe

“As a teacher with a young family, I worry about inflation, bills, cost of living… I don’t feel like teachers are valued or compensated enough for their time .”

He votes Conservative because he supports “a knowledge-rich and quite traditional curriculum” – the ideas and education reforms that have shaped the system since Michael Gove was education secretary.

Although he does not ‘trust Labour 100%’ on education, if they pledged to raise teachers’ salaries and introduce free school meals for all in the next election, he should have trouble continuing to support the Conservatives.

Christine Cunniffe, principal of a private mixed day and boarding school in Ascot, is another member of the Conservative party who would like the government to introduce universal free school meals for pupils.

“You can’t learn on an empty stomach”

teacher
Pitfield

Like Isaacson, she also comes from a working-class background (“my parents were staunchly conservative,” she says), adding, “I’m an educator and you can’t learn on an empty stomach. Mass catering is also much cheaper than families trying to care for children.

She continues to trust the Conservative Party as she believes a Labor government would be “a disaster” for the independent sector and threaten the existence of schools like hers.

She does not believe that a Labor government would have handled the cost of living crisis any better. Yet she is aware that “all the time politicians argue and education ministers come and go, we are failing children.”

Dr Spencer Pitfield, a former headmaster of a SEND school who has voted Conservative all his life, would also be in favor of offering a free school meal to all primary school children, even if it would mean helping children whose families could afford to pay.

“I think it’s a very fair way to ensure that every youngster in this age group gets a hot meal – and it will really help their education.”

“What I am in favor of is choice”

James was the only conservative we spoke to who supports repealing the high school ban.

“What I’m in favor of is choice, that is, parents can choose the schools that are right for their children,” he says. “But if I’m being completely honest with you, the issue divides my organization, the Conservative Friends of Education.”

teacher
James with Liz Truss

Cunniffe thinks the repeal of the high school ban should be put on the back burner.

Instead, the government should address “real and pressing issues” in education, namely “we are trying to prepare a workforce for the future and our curriculum and our examination system are not suitable”.

Pitfield wants the government to stop its “relentless push for change” and focus on “the essentials” like smaller classes, good standards and giving children the best possible teachers.

“I think that’s a big red herring that we’re going to have more high schools. First, I don’t think it can happen in 18 months. Second, it just takes away the fact that all schools should be staffed, better.

Like most conservatives we spoke to, he would not favor turning all schools into academies. What teachers urgently need from a Conservative government is stability and continuity, not “massive top-down change”, he said.

High schools a “great distraction”

Steve Mastin, a former high school teacher who serves as vice president of the Conservative Education Society, thinks high school talk is a “big distraction.”

“It won’t happen because there is no support for it. It’s fundamentally anti-conservative, because conservatives are in favor of parent choice — and high schools choose the students who enter their schools, not the parents.

teacher
mastin

He is also against forcing existing schools to become academies.

Instead, he thinks the government’s top priority should be to ‘spit cash’ to fund the 5% pay rise for teachers announced in July, followed by a cut in fuel taxes and VAT, in order to reduce the cost of food. .

“It will help some of the most disadvantaged homes where my students come from,” he says, “and it will also help teachers who drive to school.”

John Bald, an independent education consultant, has consistently voted Conservative since 2005, but also has serious doubts about mass academization.

“I don’t see this as an improvement in education,” he said. “I think a lot of academic trusts have all the weaknesses of local authorities. Some of them were downright corrupt and incompetent.

Despite the current political turmoil, James is confident that whatever this government has in store for schools over the next 18 months will be what is best for the country and for children. “What we have to do is just roll up our sleeves and keep going.”

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