Manifestos roundup: what’s in store for schools?

John Davies

So, the wait is finally over. We, the Great British Public ®, can finally have a proper look at the parties before us and make up our mind, as the election manifestos were released last week. At last, we know exactly what each party is offering and can be 100% confident in the knowledge that each will deliver on every one of their promises.  Because it will be different this time, won’t it?

Ok, maybe not that last bit. We’ve all had our fingers burnt with manifesto promises before, so let’s not get too carried away. Even so, I thought it would be worth having a look at the manifestos and thinking about what might be in store post May 7th for schools. So here goes.

Conservatives

ConservativesLiam Byrne must be kicking himself, because when he left the infamous note reading ‘there’s no money left’, he more or less helped frame the next five years of Conservative messaging: the country was in a mess, and we’ve cleared it up. This message runs right through the party’s manifesto, including on education, which asks voters to let the good work which has begun be completed: if you want more of the same, vote Conservative.

The Conservatives are promising a continuation of the academies programme as well as “at least” 500 new free schools. If your school ‘requires improvement’, they want it to be taken over by a leading headteacher and proven sponsor. There’s also some classic Tory ‘back to basics’ style policy for the core vote: year 6 pupils will need to be able to recite their times tables and write a short story with perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation, while teachers will be expected to be trained in dealing with low-level disruption.

However, it doesn’t all conform to type. The influence of Nicky Morgan is clear, with a promise to reduce the burden of teacher workload and Ofsted inspections. This has been the defining message from her short time as secretary of state, and I think it’s encouraging to see it reaffirmed here. It might be a case of ‘too little, too late’ for parts of the teaching profession to be won over to the Tory cause, though.

Read the manifesto here.

Labour

LabourLabour, it seems, is attempting to solve a problem with British education stretching back decades: the lack of high quality vocational education. It says that our education system is “failing to meet the needs of young people who do not follow the traditional academic path from school to university”, which is a clear break with the emphasis of New Labour, as well as the Conservatives’ priorities.

In order to remedy this, it is promising the ‘Technical Baccalaureate’, which is a vocational award for 16 to 18-year-olds that will combine a “gold-standard qualification accredited by employers with a quality work placement”. In the long term, I think, this could be the lasting education legacy of a future Labour government.

Despite arguing that public services will be improved by “pushing power down and organising them around individuals and families not centralised bureaucracies”, which sounds like it was written by Michael Gove, you are being offered clear water between Labour and the Conservatives:

The opening of new free schools? Gone.

Qualified teachers? Compulsory.

The middle tier? It’s back, with directors of school standards responsible for commissioning new schools where there is a shortage of school places.

You might also find your school open much longer, as Labour is promising to ensure all primary schools guarantee access to wraparound childcare from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There’s no mention of workload or Ofsted, but this is a pitch pointing squarely at those of you disaffected with the last five years.

Read the manifesto here.

Liberal Democrats

BirdOfLiberty-01_600px315pxThey’ve had a tough five years, but the Liberal Democrats are still in with a shout of being part of the next government and are hoping that you still agree with Nick (remember that?). The message of the manifesto is not dissimilar to the Conservatives: look what we have delivered, you can have more of the same if you vote Lib Dem. For example, it promises protection for schools’ pupil premium funding and an extension of free school meals to all primary pupils. Hopefully there won’t be the same media furore around implementation of the latter next time.

As we learnt in 2010, not all manifesto promises survive a smash-and-grab coalition negotiation in Westminster. However, in a possible coalition with Labour, the Liberal Democrat promise of protected funding in real terms for schools and the opening of new schools only in places of need would surely survive. Equally, in a repeat of the current coalition, an emphasis on reducing teacher workload would be a point of blue and yellow harmony. Just to be clear, blue and yellow does not equal green in this context.

Read the manifesto here.

UKIP

UkipIn a surprise ‘UKIP look to learn from Europe’ moment, the party is promising to allow secondary schools to become vocational colleges “similar to those promoted in Germany and the Netherlands”. It’s the flipside to its flagship policy of a return to grammar schools. Quite how this would work on a local level, with each school being able to convert to either one, is unclear.

Read the manifesto here.

The Green Party

GreensIf you want to move to Finland, but don’t fancy listening to this on the radio, you might want to look at the Greens, as their manifesto pledges bear remarkable similarity to the Finnish education system. Children would begin formal education at 7, while SATs and league tables would be recycled into environmentally friendly policies including a focus on education through play.

Read the manifesto here.

So, there you have it. The choice is yours. Hopefully this has been of some assistance in helping you wade through the confusing world of post-2010 British politics, where we actually have more than two parties to choose from. Crazy stuff.

 

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