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3 July 2017

The right’s tropes about lefty teachers ignore the very real reasons they are angry

It shouldn't be a revelation that those working in public services tend to want more money for public services.

By Freddie Whittaker

It’s official. Our schools are overrun by lefty teachers. They’re brainwashing children and lying to parents about mythical school cuts in order to circumvent our democracy and take over the world.

Or so a group of right-wingers still smarting from a surprising election result would have us believe.

The “lefty teachers” trope has been around for generations. It has for some time been conventional wisdom that a hefty chunk of the teaching profession leans to the left. Most of us have just accepted that, and trust the consummate professionals in our classrooms to teach with impartiality.

However, some on the right only just appear to have found out that some teachers are left-wing, and they are LIVID.

“LEFT DOMINATES BRITISH SCHOOLS, WITH OVER 80 PER CENT OF TEACHERS BACKING LABOUR OR LIB DEMS,” screamed alt-right news website Breitbart after discovering a survey by Tes that found that four in five teachers planned to vote for a left-leaning party.

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Further evidence of Jeremy Corbyn’s dastardly brainwashing of pupils was found by Breitbart, this time in the results of mock elections in schools, which are, of course, an entirely reliable gauge of voting intention.

What would Breitbart have us do? Start sacking teachers during a recruitment and retention crisis? Launch a drive to hire more right-wingers? What incentives can we offer them? Free signed picture of Michael Gove for everyone who signs up?

It’s not just the alt-right that’s been rubbed up the wrong way by the revelation that people working in public services tend to vote for parties that generally pledge to spend more money on public services.

Further outrage and bluster came recently in response to a story about Danemill School in Leicestershire, which has announced plans to close early on a Friday because its budget won’t stretch to a full week of teaching.

In the education press, we know from our discussions with heads, union leaders, policy experts and others that the situation at Danemill is unlikely to be an isolated case.

We’ve heard warnings about shortened school days and weeks before. We know that schools are having to take drastic action to live within their means.

In an ideal world, we would listen to these warnings and try to do something about school funding. Teachers and school leaders are the experts. We should trust them when they tell us something is wrong.

But some would rather stick their fingers in their ears and blame it all on the teachers. “Don’t blame Theresa May and cuts for schools shutting early on Friday,” an enraged Rod Liddle spat in The Sun, “It’s more likely the teachers fancied clocking off at 1pm.”

Yes, that’s exactly it, Rod, nail on head. The staff at Danemill School are so lazy that they have somehow convinced the government to subject them to real terms cuts of more than £150,000 over the next two years so they can sack off to the pub at lunchtime on Fridays.

It is clearly very troubling that the staff of a Leicestershire primary school have direct influence over both the Department for Education and the Treasury. They must be stopped.

The fact that some heads wanted to keep parents informed about the dire financial situation the government has left their schools in also seems to have puzzled some Conservative MPs.

“To be engaging in the party political fray using official letterheads and Twitter accounts is unacceptable,” the Crawley MP Henry Smith huffed to the Daily Mail recently. He was responding to the news that some heads had written to parents about school funding cuts during the election campaign. “If funding is such a tight issue, what are they doing spending money on these letters?” he asked.

That’s right, Henry. Evil headteachers are risking their schools’ financial security because they’re printing out too many copies of the Communist Manifesto to mail to unwitting parents.

Bob Blackman, the Harrow East MP, is so incensed to discover that headteachers don’t like school funding cuts that he raised their actions in parliament last Tuesday, asking the education secretary Justine Greening to “condemn the propaganda that is still going out from schools”.

Greening took the bait, telling MPs that it was “concerning to see what many people have felt are utterly political messages being put out inappropriately”.

It is up to school governors and trustees to decide whether their headteachers did anything wrong in sending letters about school cuts, but I wonder how many people with a real grasp of what’s going on in our schools can actually blame them.

I wrote in April that school funding was a £3 billion problem creeping up on Theresa May, and creep up on her it did.

Headteachers are justifiably terrified about how the next few years are going to play out for their schools. Mounting cost pressures and frozen per-pupil funding mean many schools face having to make savings of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Teachers and support staff are facing redundancy, maintenance is being scaled back, textbooks are not being renewed, creative subjects are being sidelined. School business managers are losing sleep.

Members of the National Association of Head Teachers railed against the cuts at their annual conference earlier this year. The level of anger and concern from heads in this traditionally more moderate union is unprecedented. Yet the bile currently being directed at teachers who have dared to speak out is to be expected, however.

Warnings of real-terms cuts to per-pupil spending of up to 6.5 per cent by 2020 caused embarrassment to Conservative candidates on the doorstep, and uncertainty over plans for a new national funding formula didn’t help either.

Education went from being a footnote on people’s priority lists to one of the top three issues in voters’ minds.

Now senior Tories are clamouring for more money for schools in a desperate bid to get on the right side of the debate.

Teachers have won the argument over school funding, so naturally, those who want to see the status quo maintained will try to discredit them so they can’t claim such an easy victory again.

However, continued attacks on teachers smack of the same disdain for the profession that got us into this mess in the first place, and risk making commentators and politicians seem even less in touch with voters than they did during the campaign.

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