Teachers & the Right

Twenty years ago, I played for a schoolboy football team.

On the Saturday morning after the General Election result we gathered for training, and I was commiserated with by the others. To begin with I didn’t quite understand why, and said so, at which point I was informed that clearly I must be feeling a bit sore after the Conservatives had been reduced to 165 seats in the House of Commons.

Now I’d never discussed party politics with the lads I played football with. So I set them straight: had I been old enough, I’d have voted Labour. They smirked. Obviously I was a Tory: I was the only privately-educated member of the team.

If you’d asked these boys about tax, or about criminal justice, or about international aid, you’d have got answers which would belong firmly on the right of the political spectrum. But it would never have occurred to them to have voted Conservative. The Tories were the posh gits’ party. Everyone knew that.

This was in a marginal constituency in the south midlands, which (like a lot of places, I suppose) had a Conservative MP before 1997 and a Labour MP thereafter. Evidently quite a lot of its inhabitants did vote Tory. And while my (fictitious) Conservative allegiance was assumed, I’d never been given a hard time about it. I wasn’t disliked for being a Tory. It was just the way of the world. Posh people voted Conservative. Others didn’t.

Then I started teaching.

My first online venue for reading teachers’ views was the Times Educational Supplement’s forums. There, on those forums, something not altogether dissimilar was going on. Teachers were – then as now – vocally Labour-supporting.

When lamenting indiscipline in lessons, and the injunctions to understand rather than to condemn the misbehaviour, or the proliferation of pointless bureaucracy, or the decline in academic standards, there was a consistent embrace of Tory principles by teachers who were otherwise quite keen to denounce the wickedness of Conservatism or Conservatives.

Robert Conquest famously said that ‘everyone is right-wing about what he knows best.’ I’m not wholly convinced by this. The world of education does have two very different ‘rights.’ There’s the free-market right, the right of uncapped university tuition fees, of free schools, or of vouchers, but certainly of competition and parental choice. But there’s also the traditionalist right, the right of ‘classical’ educations and grammar schools, of uniforms and gowns and pupils sitting in serried ranks learning from a sage on the stage. These aren’t completely incompatible with each other, but there are some pretty serious tensions, and very different priorities, and I wonder which of them is the kind of ‘right-wing’ to which those who know about education might be expected to adhere.

Still, I think quite a lot of teachers are more right-wing than they think they are.


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