Stephen James is the Deputy Chairman Political & Campaigning for Folkestone and Hythe Conservative Association, a state school teacher, and the founder of Conservative Friends of Education.
Oh no! Another ‘Conservative Friends of…’ I hear you cry. But bear with me, this is important.
My profession is currently gripped by the left. In fact, according to a poll by the Times Educational Supplement, only seven per cent of the teaching profession vote Conservative. My personal experience reflects this figure as I am constantly being asked by colleagues;
“How can you work in education and be a Tory?”
The fact that this question is being asked at all, shows the foothold that the left have amongst my profession. That said, the answer I give is always the same:
“I believe in aspiration, opportunity and the transformative nature of education. Conservative values offer those in bucket loads.”
A further catalyst for founding Conservative Friends of Education came when I was leading the General Election campaign for Damian Collins MP in Folkestone and Hythe. During the campaign, my headteacher received two unsubstantiated complaints from known local Labour and Lib Dem Activists about me and my political beliefs.
The first one said that as a Tory, I am brainwashing children to all be Tories…
The second complaint said that as a Tory, I am a fascist… therefore should not be teaching children.
Obviously, both are untrue, and I would never push my political beliefs on the children that I teach. It also begs the question whether my more left-leaning colleagues received such complaints from them despite their obvious political beliefs… I’m certain us Tories wouldn’t stoop so low.
Anyway, I figured that there must be other passionate Conservatives out there who have had similar experiences. Thus, ‘Conservative Friends of Education’ was born. I wanted to create a network to support each other and turn the tide of the left in education, as well as challenge the perception that you cannot be a Tory and a teacher.
In the first 20 days of being operational we have received public support from a variety of political heavyweights such as Michael Gove, Sir Graham Brady, Bob Blackman, Robert Halfon, Penny Mordaunt, Jon Gullis (former teacher), Aaron Bell, Rob Roberts, Andrew Lewer, Andy Carter, Lord Agnew, Marco Longhi, Henry Smith, Craig Williams, Ruth Edwards, Tom Tugendhat, Andrea Jenkyns, Damian Collins, and Ranil Jayawardena who have already publicly endorsed our core aim, which is to promote aspiration in our education system.
We have also been extremely lucky to receive the advice and support of two titans of the education sector, Ronel Lehmann, and Dr Selva Pankaj. I am in awe of both of these men, who are also fantastic supporters of the Conservative Party. I am looking forward to working with Ronel and Selva to bring aspiration to the front and centre of the political discourse on education.
Conservative Friends of Education is not a lobby group for policy. It is a promotor / advocate / campaigner for our key Conservative values of aspiration, opportunity, and compassion.
As a party, being a broad church is one of our greatest strengths, but it can also be a weakness. Education policy can be a battleground – selective vs. non-selective, faith vs. non faith, free schools vs academies vs state maintained… the list goes on. So, I have made a conscious decision to avoid policy and promote our values and things that unite us.
We already have 50 members after only 20 days of being in operation. This includes Nursery Group Leaders to Russell Group Professors. All united in a belief in our core aims:
- To offer support to members who feel politically isolated in their educational setting.
- To provide an environment for people employed in education, governors and supporters, who support the Conservative Party, to meet, discuss and campaign together.
- To promote, by way of conferences and other means, knowledge and understanding of education issues within the Conservative Party and in the country at large.
- To encourage close links between the Party and people employed in education, governors and supporters.
- To work closely with the Conservative Party organisation and Conservative Campaign Headquarters.
- To support the Conservative Party and to assist with its campaigns.
- To encourage and support more individuals with a background in education to stand for election – both locally and nationally.
This year, Conservative Friends of Education will establish itself as a positive voice for Conservatives who work in education. Bravely, we will be attending Teaching Union Conferences to stand proudly as Conservatives amongst the 93% who didn’t vote for us.
If you know a silent Tory who works in education, let them know that they are not alone. Tell them about Conservative Friends of Education.