With the general election just a few sleeps away, we take a look at the impact of the key parties’ policies regarding the future of education. From the Conservatives to the Greens, each party has a unique approach to sculpting the education sector in the next four years. We discuss the proposals for change from the Conservatives, Labour, the Greens, the SNP, Plaid, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats in turn.
The Parties and Their Proposals
If elected, the Conservatives pledge to continue to demand high standards for our schools, and to this end, will give Regional Schools Commissioners the power to step in and regulate failing schools. They promise to give teachers the “tools to deliver the highest standards,” and plan to introduce a National Teacher’s Service. This would help to bring high-end teaching talent into the areas that need it most.
The Conservatives state that they have significantly raised education standards while giving teachers and parents enough autonomy to expand and improve their schools on their own terms. In their own words, they will grant “schools greater economy, and put professionals in the driver’s seat over what they teach, when they teach it, as well as who is best to teach it.”
There may be some cause for concern regarding of focus towards standardised testing, which has been criticised for marginalising the party’s pledges to enforce resits for students beginning secondary school who did not reach Level 4 in Key Stage 2 SATS. This could further shift the balance the learning, creativity and personal development of students.
The Labour Education Manifesto contains a lot of popular promises, including an end to the free schools programme, and codifying the right of a child to be taught by qualified teachers in intimate class sizes. It also proposes the re-introduction of Sure Start and one-on-one career guidance.
The deconstruction of the free schools programme is a particularly popular proposal, alongside the protection of the national education budget.
Criticisms include a lack of focus on increasing funding to previous levels, in order to fully support schools that are floundering under current conditions.
The National Union of Teachers’ concerns touch upon the fact that there is “no mention in the manifesto of the role of Ofsted in school accountability. This is an area that desperately needs looking at. This inspection system has lost the trust of the profession and is stifling creativity in the curriculum.”
The Green Party
The Greens stress that education is both a right and an entitlement and posits that education should be “free at the point of delivery to people of all ages.” They “reject market-driven models of education that see education only in terms of international economic competitiveness and preparation for work.”
Specifically, they plan to replace the National Curriculum with a set of learning entitlements, such that students and teachers can develop a curriculum to suit their needs. They also plan to significantly deconstruct standardised testing as a benchmark for progress – abolishing SATS exam, the Year 1 phonics test and all league tables as they currently stand.
The Green Party also plan to replace Ofsted with an independent National Council of Educational Excellence. This sits well with the NUT’s call for a reduction in the power of Ofsted, as they state that in its current form as an inspection system it “has lost the trust of the profession and is stifling creativity in the curriculum.”
Scottish National Party
The SNP has plans to introduce a new Early Years Fund in order to expand community-based provisions of pre-schools. They have committed to a new phase of increased school building across Scotland and to involve local communities in the running of schools and they aim to hand power back to the schools and their head teachers.
They plan to build on the changes they’ve already implemented, including maintaining the much improved teacher-pupil ratio they have helped develop.
The party’s focus on the individual needs of pupils has been praised, as well as their dedication to increasing the number of schools, while also handing power back to the staff, teachers, pupils and parents.
Plaid Cymru wants to create reforms in the national curriculum, such that children can develop a “positive understanding of the history of Wales and the cultures of their communities.” Their manifesto also highlights the importance of understanding new technologies, “through coding and advanced computer technology development lessons, such as the Raspberry Pi device.”
Much like Labour and The Greens, Plaid opposes the free school model promoted by the Coalition and instead plans to focus on its central ethos – that “higher education should be free for all.”
They also promise that students working in science and engineering will not have to pay fees if they stay in Wales for their education. In today’s climate, that’s an attractive pledge.
UKIP makes promises in the same vein regarding the removal of tuition fees in approved areas (such as science, medicine, technology, engineering and mathematics,) on the condition that students remain in the UK to work and pay taxes for five years after completing their degrees.
They also plan to scrap the national target of 50% of school leavers going on to higher education and to enforce international fees on EU students in UK universities.
UKIP supports the Free Schools model (given that ‘British values’ are upheld) and also plan to bolster schools that wish to apply to become grammar schools.
There has been some concern regarding their pledge to encourage the creation of grammar schools and to maintain the Free School model. Conversely, their promise to reinstate the student grant and the education maintenance allowance has been praised.
The Liberal Democrats have promised to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1000 per pupil, per year – a significant increase on the EYPP being launched this April at £300. They pledge to introduce a fair national funding formula, rule out profit-making schools and introduce a minimum curriculum entitlement – essentially, a slimmed down core National Curriculum.
The Liberal Democrats’ commitment to putting qualified teachers in every classroom has been well received, as well as their prioritisation of education funding.
Predictions: Which way are the winds blowing?
The state of education in the UK hangs in the balance. A recent report published by YouGov states that “morale in the teaching profession continues to fall and 74% of teachers say their morale has declined since the last general election.”
The report also shows that teachers are less likely to stay in the profession than before, and that there’s been a disturbing increase in reports of malnutrition and hunger affecting the ability of pupils to concentrate – indeed, almost half of all teachers are reporting such conditions.
Which way will it go? The poll found that 12% of teachers would vote Conservative in the upcoming election, 43% would vote for Labour and 6% for the Liberal Democrats. Given the unpopular changes brought in under the Coalition, these findings are not surprising. The proof, however, will be in the poll day pudding.