Vote With Your Feet or with your Head, Hand and Heart?
Education manifestos are notoriously chock-full of pledges and cherry-picked statistics that promise the Earth. They deliberately shower the electorate with policy confetti packed with dreams, visions and grand plans all designed to woo and wed us to their party.
Some policies are attractive and are set up like a Venus fly-trap ready to eat us alive and sometimes they do. Voters are vulnerable and easily led up the garden path especially as rhetoric and hyperbole can befuddle, blind and beguile.
Unsurprisingly, policies do U-turns and ‘360s’ and things change faster than Russell Horning can do ‘The Floss’. Sometimes it is hard to keep abreast of who has said what to who and when, not to mention why. The goal-posts often shift and policies also mysteriously change thanks to rolling smokescreens like Brexit so election vows are harder to keep sight of. A concrete pledge suddenly becomes quicksand.
Although political parties have released manifestos specifically for the places where seats are up for grabs, it is worth taking a look at national policies and reminding ourselves of what has been said and some of the changes. What follows is merely a snapshot and is not intended to be exhaustive and, as always, all party claims need to be fact-checked.
The ‘Forward Together’ manifesto of the Conservatives is all about wanting to make Britain the ‘Great Meritocracy’ where everyone “no matter who they are or where they are from, can have a world-class education.”
The Conservatives want more good school places and have promised to continue with their free schools programme “building at least 100 new free schools a year.” They also vow to prohibit councils creating new places in schools rated by Ofsted as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’. Universities wanting 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.
“Nothing is more important” than children’s education and this means raising standards through a knowledge-rich curriculum so children can compete with the “world’s best and enjoy a better future”. The government also pledges to bear down on workload and the burden of Ofsted inspections.
On funding, the Conservatives promised a £4 billion increase by 2022, a “real terms increase for every year of parliament”. The pupil premium will be protected, and ministers announced in February that the threshold for free school meals for children whose parents receive universal credit will be set at £7,400 a year.
For a full list of policies take a look at here.
The Labour manifesto
The Labour manifesto ‘For the Many, Not The Few’ is about building a “better, fairer Britain” and proposes the creation of a National Education Service (NES) “giving our children’s schools the funding they badly need.”
The NES is described as ‘cradle-to-grave’ learning built on the ‘Every Child – and Adult Matters’ incorporating all forms of education, from early years through to adult education and free at the point of use. The development of the NES underpin all other policies and reforms. Their policies include:
– Expanding early years education to 30 hours a week for all 2-4 year olds.
– Introducing free school meals for all primary school children,
– Reducing class sizes to less than 30 for all five-, six-, and seven- year-olds.
– Investing in schools, and protecting budgets in real terms over the course of a Parliament, as well as introducing a genuinely fair National Funding Formula in which no school loses out.
– Making further education free at the point of use, for all those who need it at any stage of their lives, making lifelong learning for all a reality.
– Scrapping university tuition fees.
– Bringing back both the Education Maintenance Allowance and university maintenance grants to ensure that money is never a barrier to remaining in education for students of any background
The NES pledges to value education staff as highly-skilled professionals, “draw on evidence and international best practice, and provide appropriate professional development and training.”
It also includes a plan to extend school-based counselling to all schools to improve children’s mental health and introducing teacher sabbaticals and placements with industry.
The Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrat manifesto ‘Change Britain’s Future’ is about putting children first and sits at the heart of their agenda. A package of detailed education reforms have since been announced at the 2018 Lib Dem Spring conference in their policy paper ‘Every Child Empowered: Education for a changing world’. This 40-page policy paper changes their position on a number of issues.
Describing their plans as “revolutionary”, the Lib Dems have announced plans to abolish Ofsted replacing it with a new Inspector of Schools, scrap KS1 and KS2 SATs, overhaul league tables and abolish regional schools commissioners. Other policy proposals include:
– increase the Early Years pupil premium from £300 to £1000 per child.
– a broad and balanced curriculum to include a ‘curriculum for life’ (eg, SRE, Citizenship, First Aid, Financial Literacy).
– Replacing the EBacc measure with Progress 8.
– Introduce measures to reduce the number of children with special educational needs who are excluded from school.
– end the assumption that if a new school is needed it cannot be a Community School.
– 50 hours Continuous Professional Development entitlement.
The Lib Dem vision for Education 2030 states that, “Everyone will leave school at 18 equipped with knowledge and skills which will allow them to succeed in work or progress to Higher and Further Education.”
Political parties themselves are never backwards coming forwards when it comes to rubbishing each other and full-throated attacks are routine. They bark and spit a full spectrum of views, ranging from joy to despair and everything in between accusing each other of low ambition, outdated policies or pie in the sky ideas.
Education is arguably the most important divide in general elections but at the local level many voters have their own agendas and where they plant their cross on their home patch isn’t always a reflection of how they vote nationally. There are many Englands with many educational voices to be heard and whether the state of play nationally influences local voting remains to be seen.
So please, vote with your vote.
Author: John Dabell
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books and contributed well over 1,000 articles, features, reviews and curriculum projects to various bodies, magazines, journals and institutions. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru – sharing monthly insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.
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