Manifesto summaries: what do they say about education?

Adam Wainwright

The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos have now been published and each contain a veritable treasure trove of education policy promises. Below, we’ve summarised what each of these three parties are pledging for education.

There are actually some similarities, believe it or not. The Conservative and Labour manifestos both talk about avoiding ‘teaching to the test’, and all three discuss tackling rising workloads. All three parties also pledge a fairer funding formula (though it is unclear in the manifestos how the Labour and Liberal Democrat formula would differ from the one currently under consultation). Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats propose extending free school meals to all primary school aged children.

Below are some of the key points, though I do want to stress it is not exhaustive. Members of The Key can find a more exhaustive policy list here (for school leaders) and here (for school governors).

The Conservative manifesto

There are some familiar faces in the manifesto, as well as some surprise new entries. On funding, the manifesto promises a £4 billion increase by 2022, a “real terms increase for every year of parliament”. The pupil premium will be protected, and universal infant free school meals will now become universal free breakfast to all primary-aged children. Free school meals for primary and secondary aged children from low income families will continue.

David Cameron previously pledged 500 new free schools back in 2015, picked up on here with the promise of at least a hundred new free schools a year. Universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees, as well as “at least 100 leading independent schools”, will need to be involved with academy sponsorship or founding free schools. I’m not going to mention the grammar schools bit; you must have heard about it by now.

The accountability section also catches the eye. The EBacc target has been softened, with an ‘expectation’ for 75% of students to be entered by the end of the next parliament, and the 90% target pushed back to 2025. But there is also mention of “improving schools’ accountability at Key Stage 3”. This may or may not be a response to Ofsted’s dramatically titled “Key Stage 3: the wasted years?” research – which sounds like a failed Skins reboot but is actually a report on the issues of current KS3 provision. It also sets the expectation for every 11-year-old to know their times tables off by heart.

The Labour manifesto

The Labour manifesto proposes the creation of a National Education Service (NES). This is described as ‘cradle-to-grave’ learning that encompasses all forms of education, from early years to adult education. They take an opposing stance to the Conservative “grammar schools vanity project” and forced academisation. On funding, they vow to reverse all Convservative spending cuts – the separate funding document outlines an extra 6.3 billion for schools.

The previously announced universal free school meals for all primary children features, joined by policies on reducing class sizes to less than 30 for all 5-7 year olds, abandoning baseline assessments and reviewing KS1 and 2 SATs.

Teacher recruitment and retention will be tackled, Labour says, by ending the public-sector pay cap, giving teachers more involvement in the curriculum. The manifesto also mentions reintroducing the School Support Staff Negotiating Body and national pay settlements for teachers.  It also states that there would be £150 million back into the school system by scrapping the current plans for schools to pay the apprenticeship levy.

It also includes a plan to extend school-based counselling to all schools to improve children’s mental health. An inclusivity-based strategy for special educational needs and disabilities, with more training for teaching and non-teaching staff, features too.

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto

The Liberal Democrats, headed by world-saving asteroid-destroyer Tim Farron, say in their manifesto that they, like Labour, will reverse all cuts to front-line school and college budgets. On the pupil premium, very much seen as their flagship offering of the coalition government policy, they have pledged to protect it and increase the early years pupil premium to £1,000 per pupil.

For teachers, there are promises to end the 1% cap on pay rises and introduce a funded entitlement for professional development. There is a bit more detail than in either of the aforementioned manifestos on how they would tackle workload; an authority to pilot future policy changes, reforming inspection and ‘helping the best leaders into the most challenging schools’. A concrete pledge to repeal the rule that all new state-funded schools must be free schools or academies features, as does scrapping the expansion of grammar schools.

There’s also some interesting curriculum details. Their ‘slimmed down’ core curriculum would include: financial literacy, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, mental health education and Sex and Relationship Education (which includes teaching about consent, LGBT+ relationships and issues surrounding explicit images).

So what now? Have any of these manifestos changed your mind? Do any of them surprise you? Hopefully these summaries offer some insight, but the best thing anyone can do is to research each party as much as possible. Oh, and whoever you’re planning to vote for: REGISTER TO VOTE.

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