It is easy to forget that this year’s general election is about more than just Brexit, immigration, and trade deals, but whichever leader occupies Number 10 after the General Election will shape education policy for years to come. As (nearly) all the main party leaders debate the key points of their manifestos, we take a look at what lies in store for the education sector.
Labour’s headline education policy is the development of a National Education Service for England that will move towards ‘cradle to grave’ education services, free at the point of use. They have promised to:
- reduce class sizes to under 30 for all five, six and seven year olds
- devolve responsibility for skills to city regions
- remove the VAT exemption on private school fees to fund free school meals for all primary school children
- expand early years childcare provision
Schools will be ‘democratically accountable’ under a Labour government, and the party has promised to ensure ‘appropriate controls to see that [schools] serve the public interest and their local communities’. While such accountability is not defined, the implication is a future government that will promote a hands-on role for local councils in the running of schools.
The Liberal Democrats have promised an extra £5.7bn a year for schools and colleges to protect per-pupil funding in real terms. To ensure no school loses out, the party promises:
- a fairer national funding formula with commitments on pay, training and conditions for teachers
- 25 hours of “high quality professional development” for all teachers per year by 2020, rising to 50 hours by 2025
- the 1% cap on teachers’ pay rises will be removed
And in a reform of enforcement standards, the party would change the emphasis of Ofsted inspections to focus on longer-term outcomes, and establish an independent authority to implement policy changes in consultation with professionals and experts.
Given its slim lead in opinion polls, the Conservative party manifesto will perhaps be most closely scrutinised. Theresa May has promised to go ‘further’ in reforming education, committing to:
- an extra £4bn for schools
- ‘at least’ 100 new free schools a year
- controls to prevent councils from creating any new places at schools that have been rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requiring improvement’ by Ofsted
In perhaps the most controversial move, the Tories will lift the ban on establishing selective schools, allowing new grammar schools to be built. The party promises to work with the Independent Schools Council to ensure that at least 100 leading independent schools become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools in the state system.
A new funding formula is also envisaged, although the manifesto moves to calm fears amongst some schools by signalling that “no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula”.
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