Whichever political party wins the election, it’s evident from a review of their manifestos there will be a continuing struggle afterwards to create a school system fit for the 21st Century.
With alarming statistics showing the poor mental health of many of our young people we need to act now to campaign for universal promotion of wellbeing in schools. It is currently a duty of care, yet is all too frequently overlooked or ignored.
Creativity is often seen as peripheral despite many highly respected educators, business leaders, scientists, artists and even politicians understanding and explaining precisely why creativity is so important for individuals and for society.
Massive advances in technology and a much better understanding of how the brain works indicate that our current education system needs significant change. We can’t afford to stand still – election or no election.
With a series of posts we’ll summarise the key points from each political party’s manifesto and add our own comments. We hope that readers will find them useful, not only for the 7th May election but also as pointers for future campaigns to reinvent education in England.
For brevity’s sake we’ll prioritise those we feel will have the greatest impact on young people, their families and schools, as well as those that are particularly pertinent to our own areas of interest.
The Liberal Democratic Party
The entire education manifesto can be found by scrolling to page 50.
3Di’s brief comments on the main points can be found here.
Here’s our brief summary of the main points in the LibDem manifesto.
On “High-quality early years education”
- By 2020 every EY setting to have a qualified EY teacher
- Increase EY Pupil Premium to £1000
- Continue to support Local Authority Children’s Centres
- Improve Special Educational Needs identification
3Di Comment: The importance of Early Years education is almost universally agreed in principle if not in content. Money spent well in EY education is a preventative strategy as vital to children and their education as properly funded health promotion is to their wellbeing. There’s nothing to disagree with here, though the last statement is somewhat ambiguous.
On “Driving up school standards”
- Aim to eradicate child illiteracy by 2025 with a clear ambition for all children to achieve a “good grasp” of Maths and English
- Increase the number of Teaching Schools
- Establish a “Head Teacher Board” to work with schools and local authorities on school improvement
- Return admissions management and policies to local authorities
- Implement the Children’s Commissioner’s plans on positive alternatives to exclusion
- Extend free school meals to all primary school children
- Continue to promote local integration of health, care and educational support for SEN
- Continue with faith-based schools ensuring inclusive admissions policies
3Di Comment: We’re impressed with the term “good grasp” rather than the notion of attaining a fixed “standard” that pays no regard to individual children and their progress. For instance, a Level 3 is a “good grasp” even though it isn’t the ‘required’ 4c. There are some excellent Teaching Schools but there are others that are less successful. This is a concern and a strengthening of Initial Teacher Training courses would be our preference. Whilst the introduction of EHCPs (education, health and care plans) for SEN pupils is good, we’d like to see plans for universal EHCP as preventative and support work relating to wellbeing. We’re fascinated by the fact that the Lib Dems felt the need to mention faith schools whereas those that are state-funded haven’t been questioned by any other political party.
On “World-class teaching”
- Guarantee that all teachers working in state-funded schools will have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or working towards it from September 2016
- Introduce properly funded entitlement to professional development
- Help establish a profession-led Royal College of Teachers
- Continue to support the Teach First programme
- Tackle unnecessary teacher workload through avoiding policy change for children within a Key Stage, establish the right accountability frameworks and ensure Ofsted inspections are “high-quality, fair to all and focus on outcomes not processes.”
- Establish New Leadership Institute
- Continue to work with Education Endowment Foundation on evidence-based teaching/learning.
- Encourage one specialist science teacher in every primary school
3Di Comment: Why wait until September 2016 to start implementing the QTS policy? Why, after 20+ years of Ofsted, is there still doubt about its ability to be “fair to all”? This is a disgrace and surely suggests that Ofsted itself needs to be scrutinised independently to see if the existing structure is fit for purpose. We’re interested in the organisations mentioned, but are concerned about the amount of Quangos creeping in as well as existing ones mentioned in this document – Head Teacher Board, Leadership Institute, Royal College, Education Standards Authority. These cost money and are in danger of replicating work. And why the STEM specialist only? How about a properly qualified PSHE teacher in every school?
On “Curriculum and qualifications”
- Establish an independent “Education Standards Authority” with no ministerial influence
- Introduce a minimum curriculum entitlement for all state-funded schools
- New curriculum entitlement to include all aspects of PSHE education “curriculum for life”
- Complete the introduction of GCSE reforms
- Improve the quality of vocational education
3Di Comment: Education evidently requires “no ministerial influence”. Everything here sounds very positive, especially with the specific mention of statutory status for PSHE education and a curriculum for life as an entitlement for all children. Tick this box for approval. We also commend the idea of a National Curriculum entitlement rather than a massive prescription on what should be taught – a further tick. However, we wish the Lib Dems would have gone the whole hog and looked more carefully at the GCSE reforms which are damaging the wellbeing of pupils and are divisive, and in our opinion superfluous to requirements in a system that insists children’s education continues to 18 years of age.
On “Improving care for looked after children”
- Expand the “Troubled Families” programme for early intervention
- Set expectation on LAs for promoting emotional wellbeing and resilience
- Raise the quality and profile of children’s social work
- Promote restorative justice
3Di Comment: The link between social care and education is important. Good schools and excellent managers worked with other professionals long before the previous government brought them all into one system of Children’s Services. There’s insufficient space to highlight some of the problems of this formal amalgamation of services other than to say there were and are problems with all-too frequent conflicts between professional fields. What we need is as much commitment to preventative work as to reactive and responsive work – where there’s already a problem.
On “Improving support for young adults”
- Introduce a “Young Person’s Discount Card” for 16-21 year olds
- Develop an NHS “Student Guarantee” for access to support at university
- Promote social action and volunteering at school, college and university
- Improve links between employers and schools
3Di Comment: We like the idea of a Young Person’s Discount Card and would like this to go further to offer free travel for young people. The links between employers and schools was developed by the previous government’s Education and Business Alliances. Guess what happened to them during the years of Lib Dem/Conservative austerity measures?
On “A world class university sector, open to all”
- Ensure all universities work to widen participation, including running summer schools
- Require transparent selection processes for universities
- Develop a comprehensive credit accumulation and transfer framework for students “between and within institutions”
- Explore the option for a standardised student contract
- Establish a review of higher education finance
3Di Comment: The Liberal Democrats are rightly cautious not to promise too much as far as universities and student finances are concerned, for 9000 obvious reasons! Whilst we don’t particularly like the idea of anything being “standardised” we would be interested in a universal student entitlement – which accounted for the £9K of fees properly, that offered all first year students a guaranteed regular time with a personal tutor, that provided clear and supportive careers advice and that supported their wellbeing.
On “Expanding and improving apprenticeships and further education”
- Increase number of apprenticeships and improve their quality
- Aim to double the number of businesses that hire apprentices
- Develop National Colleges as national centres of expertise
- Establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of reskilling and lifelong learning
- Work with the Apprenticeship Advisory Group to increase the number of apprentices from BAME backgrounds, ensure gender balance across industry sectors
3Di Comment: Apprenticeships do need to be increased and improved. However, we think this isn’t sustainable until we’ve had a complete review of the offer to all 14-19 year olds. Equity between vocational and academic study is imperative and whilst we recognise the need for stability, this has to be a priority. We can’t sustain the existing polarisation for a moment longer – in our opinion.
As in 2010, the Liberal Democratic Party manifesto for education has some positive pledges. As in 2010, we should be cautious of their “promises”.
They’re committed to QTS for all teachers. They’re committed to financial support for Early Years education. They’re ruling out profit-making schools and they’re for the termination of the Free Schools and Academies programme. Their pupil premium was one policy that was commendable during their term of office.
Most importantly, they’re committed to an entitlement to subjects taught and learned rather than a stringently imposed National Curriculum. That commitment extends to PSHE education and Citizenship in very clear terms which is fantastic to see so visibly in a manifesto.
However, they still haven’t got the language or the argument clear on 16+ exams and don’t even mention the A Level changes implemented during their watch. Some of the statements are ambiguous and as we said we have a concern about the prospect of establishing a range of new quangos that may move essential money away from schools, other educational institutions, and children and young people. Some of the statements are reversals of what they allowed to happen during their time within the coalition – processes that were put in place by Labour but removed as part of the severing of Local Authority services as part of the austerity package.
In summary, there are good things within this manifesto, which we note with a healthy dose of caution.