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David Laws reflects on Liberal Democrat education policy

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Previously, Key insights heard from Tristram Hunt about Labour's plans for education. Here we invite David Laws MP, minister of state for schools and MP for Yeovil, to outline Lib Dem plans for children and education.

The Liberal Democrat party is founded on the principle that everybody, regardless of where they were born or who their parents are, deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential in life. The only tool that can make this ambition a reality is a first-class education system that works for every single child, at every single stage of their development. We have spent the last five years in government working towards that goal.

The Liberal Democrats made it very clear that one of our top priorities in this parliament was to close the scandalous attainment gap that exists between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. To this end we introduced our flagship pupil premium policy, which is now giving schools £2.5 billion a year to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve more. Schools can decide how they spend this extra investment, but they must demonstrate how the money is being used to raise the attainment levels of their pupils.

It is still too soon to properly evaluate the impact the pupil premium has had, but early reports produced by Ofsted make for very encouraging reading. Schools are learning how to use pupil premium money effectively, they are focusing far more intently on the attainment gap and these changes are beginning to make a real difference for pupils who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Of course, to be effective, the pupil premium must be part of a first-class education system. To that end, Liberal Democrats have successfully fought to protect the schools budget during this parliament, expand early-years education and bring in free school meals for all infant school pupils. We reformed the accountability system for secondary schools so that they are incentivised to focus on every pupil, not just those sitting on the C/D borderline, and gave a free early-education place to every two-year-old whose parents are on low incomes.

These are just some of the things we fought for during these last five years, and they would not have happened if the Liberal Democrats had not been a part of this government. But we did not just implement our own policies. We have worked in some areas constructively with our Conservative coalition colleagues, but in other areas we have had to block Conservative plans.

We said no to profit-making schools, bringing back the old O-level and CSE divide, and meddling with the subject matter of history in the National Curriculum. We said no to changes in early-years ratios and the elimination of climate change from the curriculum. We said no to the politicisation of Ofsted and cuts to new nursery buildings.

I am proud of what we have accomplished over the last five years, but our vision for education in Britain must go further. In the next parliament we have pledged to protect the entire education budget in real terms, from cradle to college. We know that children's first few years are some of the most important developmentally, and we have now raised the participation age to 18. Both of these realities mean that it is no longer good enough to ring-fence the schools budget alone; we must protect the entire education budget from cuts and give the whole sector the funding it really needs.

Our manifesto will also give parents a guarantee. Every teacher working in a state-funded school will hold, or be working towards, qualified teacher status and every single school, regardless of title, will teach the minimum National Curriculum entitlement. Over the coming years, state-funded schools will, rightly, enjoy more independence from Whitehall than ever before. That is exactly why these basic protections are more important than ever.

A Liberal Democrat government would put in place a properly funded, evidence-based set of education policies designed to empower the teaching profession, drive up school standards and give every child the opportunity to reach their potential. We would establish an independent body responsible for the curriculum, taking politics out of the classroom. We would give Ofsted the power to inspect academy chains, help the teaching profession set up a Royal College of Teachers and increase the pupil premium in early years. Importantly, we would bring in a national fair-funding formula so our funding system was fair for all schools across the country. We will support more school-to-school co-operation and establish a national leadership institute.

During this parliament, Liberal Democrats have put in place effective, progressive and successful education policies. I believe it is vitally important that we are in a position to carry on this work after May.


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