No such thing as a free breakfast…?
We have trawled through the election manifestos of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to bring you our selection of key points relevant to state-funded schools.
The Conservatives largely seem to be sticking to their existing direction of travel – academy conversions, more free schools, lifting the ban on new grammar schools and calling for more involvement of universities and independent schools in the state sector - as outlined in their Green Paper, Schools that Work for Everyone. There is a particular focus on technical education and the need to ensure young people have the right skills and training for a post-Brexit Britain. Nurseries are also on the agenda, including capital investment to help primary schools develop nurseries and the offer of “academy freedoms” for maintained nursery schools.
The Liberal Democrats and Labour both emphasise the role of local authorities in schools but neither go so far as a wholesale reversal of the academies programme. Labour promises an overall investment of £25.3 billion in education, with the introduction of a National Education Service to provide cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use. The Liberal Democrats introduce a new independent Education Standards Authority to “pilot, phase in and resource future policy changes in consultation with professionals and experts”.
In terms of headline spending on education, Labour states it will invest £25.3 billion on its new National Education Service and Early Years provision (of which £6.3 billion on schools). The Liberal Democrats quote a commitment of £7 billion and the Conservatives a £4 billion increase in the overall schools budget. However as always with political manifestos the devil will be in the detail and it is difficult to draw simple comparisons between the figures quoted.
All three parties indicate a commitment to introducing a fairer funding system for schools. Labour states that its fairer funding formula will redress the historical underfunding of certain schools but “leave no school worse off”; the Liberal Democrats will introduce a fairer national funding system “with a protection for all schools, so that no school loses money”; the Conservatives pledge that “while we will make funding fairer over the course of the parliament, we will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula.” Whilst they give an indication of the overall approach, the complexities of school funding mean that these general statements do not offer much in the way of reassurance as to the detailed implications for individual schools.
It appears that the Conservatives are continuing with their existing stance on academies, whereas the Liberal Democrats and Labour are leaning towards giving greater control to local authorities in running schools. The Liberal Democrats pledge to reverse the ‘academy presumption’ (which currently requires that new schools will be academies other than in certain limited cases), allowing local authorities to establish new maintained schools outright and devolving capital for new school places to local authorities. Labour would end the forced conversion of maintained schools to academy status but its manifesto does not mention any more wide-reaching plans to end the academies programme altogether or to stop the voluntary conversion of schools to academy status.
Role of Independent Schools and Universities in Academies
The Conservatives are continuing with their policy of promoting the involvement of universities and independent schools in the academies programme, in particular:
- universities wishing to charge maximum tuition fees will be required to become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools;
- the Conservatives will work with the Independent Schools Council to ensure that “at least 100 leading independent schools” become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools, with the threat of changing the tax status of independent schools if progress is not made.
Labour would put a stop to the free schools programme whilst the Liberal Democrats take a more guarded approach, saying simply that they will ensure new schools are built in areas where there is a need for new places “instead of wasting money on over-supply”. The Conservatives would continue the free schools programme, building at least 100 new free schools a year.
The Conservatives have restated their commitment to allow 100% faith-based admissions for free schools in place of the current 50% limit, requiring new faith schools to prove that parents of other faiths and none would be prepared to send their children to that school.
ADMISSIONS AND SELECTION
As anticipated, the Conservatives will continue their plan to lift the ban on new selective schools (subject to conditions, including allowing pupils to join at other ages as well as 11). Labour and the Liberal Democrats are against the introduction of new selective schools.
All three parties have something to say about school admissions: Labour and the Liberal Democrats would give local authorities more control over the admissions system whilst the Conservatives simply state that they will conduct a review of the overall school admissions policy, confirming they will never introduce a mandatory lottery-based policy.
The Conservatives propose to continue with the EBacc, with an expectation that 75% of pupils will have been entered for the EBacc combination of GCSEs by the end of the next parliament, increasing to 90% by 2025. They will also introduce new funding arrangements to open a specialist maths school in every major city in England.
Labour pledges to give teachers more direct involvement in the curriculum and to “put creativity back at the heart of the curriculum”, reviewing the EBacc performance measure to “ensure the arts are not side-lined from secondary education”.
The Liberal Democrats would introduce a slimmed-down core national curriculum to be taught in all state-funded schools, including more practical areas such as PSHE, first aid, financial literacy and citizenship. The development of this curriculum will be the responsibility of a newly-established Education Standards Authority.
Mental health features in all three manifestos, with Labour pledging to ensure all secondary school children have access to a counselling service and the Liberal Democrats promising better mental health training for those working in schools. The Conservatives will publish a Green Paper on young people’s mental health before the end of this year, to include introducing mental health “first aid” training for teachers.
The Conservatives place a strong emphasis on the need to strengthen technical education provision, particularly in light of Brexit. They outline the introduction of a new “T-level” qualification across 15 routes in technical subjects, with courses to include a 3 month work placement. Other initiatives include a new “UCAS-style” portal for technical education and significantly discounted bus and train travel for apprentices. Labour instead plans to scrap new technical colleges and redirect funds to increase teacher numbers in the FE sector. The Liberal Democrats make more general statements about improving links between employers and schools, seeking to inspire more young people to follow technical and scientific careers through partnership with relevant businesses.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats pledge to end the 1% cap on teachers’ pay rises. The Conservatives focus on recruitment into the profession, pledging to continue to create a single jobs portal for schools (akin to “NHS jobs”), to provide bursaries to attract top graduates and also to “offer forgiveness” on student loan repayments whilst individuals are teaching. The Liberal Democrats guarantee that all teachers in state-funded schools will be fully-qualified or working towards QTS by 2019.
ASSESSMENT OF SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
The Conservatives pledge to improve school accountability at KS3 and want the assessments at the end of Primary School to draw from a “rich knowledge base” to reduce “teaching to the test”. Labour will abandon plans to reintroduce baseline assessments and move towards a more continuous assessment model. The Liberal Democrats also want to move away from the assessment culture, pledging to reform Ofsted inspections to focus on longer term outcomes and sustainable improvement, as well as teacher workload, sickness and retention.
Labour promises a new arts pupil premium for every primary school in England – a £160m annual boost for schools to invest in projects to support cultural activities for schools over the longer term. Labour would also reduce class sizes to less than 30 for 5-7 year olds.
There is more tinkering with the school meals programme: Labour and the Liberal Democrats want to extend free school meals to all children in primary schools (which in the case of Labour is to be funded by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees); the Conservatives however plan to reverse the universal entitlement and restrict free school meals to children from low-income families, with the added sweetener of introducing free school breakfasts for all primary school children.
The Conservatives will immediately institute a capital fund to help primary schools develop nurseries where facilities are currently lacking, and will introduce a presumption that all new primary schools should include a nursery. Maintained nurseries will also be allowed to “take on academy freedoms” (presumably by converting to academy status, although this is not explicitly stated) and to grow independently or as part of a multi academy trust.
Labour pledges to halt the closure of Children’s Centres and to increase funding available for Sure Start.
The Liberal Democrats state they will triple the Early Years pupil premium to £1,000.
If you have any questions on this article please contact Lydia Brookes or your usual Stone King contact