As part of our informative service leading upto the UK 2015 General Election, we are noting what the different main parties say about Education in their Manifestoes, with the publication of The Liberal Democrats noted here. For non-UK readers, the education promises here only apply to schools, colleges and universities within England, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own parliaments which look after their education provision. The full Lib Dems Party Manifesto is available by clicking here, but this is what they say in their section about Education…
Liberal Democrats have put education at the heart of our agenda for a generation. We believe every child deserves a great start in life, and are determined to make sure that the education system finds and nurtures the best in everyone. This is essential in order to break down the unfair divisions in our society, and to ensure a productive, competitive economy.
Too many people have their chances in life determined by who their parents are, rather than by their own efforts and abilities. With our Pupil Premium, investing in children who might otherwise fall behind, we are finally tackling the scandalous gap in exam results between rich and poor, but we must do even more.
Children start learning from the moment they are born, so parents need to be supported right from the start. Our plan stretches from cradle to college: high-quality early years education; qualified teachers and successful schools in every community; more money helping the children who need it most; flexible choices for teenagers and young people; and world-class training at college and university to set every young adult on the path to a fulfilled working life.
4.1 High-quality early years education
If we want a more equal society, we must get help to all those who might fall behind, and their parents, right from the start. That means improving early education and protecting the wide range of family support services offered in Children’s Centres. We must improve the quality of early years teaching, and raise the status of those who work in early years.
- Raise the quality of early years provision and ensure that by 2020 every formal early years setting employs at least one person who holds an Early Years Teacher qualification. Working with organisations like Teach First, we will recruit more staff with Early Years Qualified status, and extend full Qualified Teacher status, terms and conditions to all those who are properly trained.
- Increase our Early Years Pupil Premium – which gives early years settings extra money to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds – to £1,000 per pupil per year. w Continue to support Local Authorities in providing Children’s Centres, especially in areas of high need, encouraging integration with other community services like health visitors, and in particular reviewing the support and advice available for parents on early child nutrition and breastfeeding.
- Improve the identification of Special Educational Needs and disability at the earliest possible stage, so targeted support can be provided and primary schools are better prepared for their intake of pupils.
4.2 Driving up school standards
There is much to be proud of in our schools today, and much that has been improved in the last few years. But far too many children are still failing to get the qualifications they need. The gaps between rich and poor are still too wide. We cannot fail our children – especially when we know it is the children who need the most help who are the most likely to be let down.
- Protect the education budget in real terms from the early years to age 19. We will at least protect the schools’ Pupil Premium in real terms, consider carefully the merits of extending the Premium, and introduce a fair National Funding Formula.
- Set a clear ambition for all children to achieve a good grasp of Maths and English, aiming to eradicate child illiteracy and innumeracy by 2025. We will set an interim goal that all children should start school with good language skills by 2020.
- Strengthen school leadership and governance. We will provide rapid support and intervention to help ensure that all schools become good or outstanding. Our Talented Head Teachers programme will expand, helping move top leaders to where they are most needed.
- Increase the number of Teaching Schools – centres of teaching excellence that provide support to other schools.
- Ensure there is an effective, democratically accountable, ‘middle tier’ to support and intervene in schools where problems are identified. We will encourage local head teachers with a strong record to play a key role in school improvement through a local Head Teacher Board, working with schools and Local Authorities. We will abolish unelected Regional Schools Commissioners.
- Allow Ofsted to inspect both Local Authorities and academy chains. Local authorities and academy chains which are failed by Ofsted for intervention work will be required to work with stronger organisations or be replaced. w Rule out state-funded profit-making schools.
- Give democratically accountable Local Authorities clear responsibility for local school places planning. We will only fund new mainstream schools in areas where school places are needed, and repeal the rule that all new state funded schools must be free schools or academies. We will allow Local Authorities to select the school sponsor, where this is not the Local Authority itself.
- Ensure a fair local schools admissions process.
- Implement the Children’s Commissioner’s report They Go The Extra Mile into the prevention of and positive alternatives to exclusion, and strengthen appeals panels.
- Extend free school meals to all children in primary education as resources allow and following a full evaluation of free meals for infants.
- Continue to promote the local integration of health, care and educational support for children with Special Educational Needs and health problems.
We will allow parents to continue to choose faith-based schools within the state-funded sector and allow the establishment of new faith schools. We will ensure all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and end unfair discrimination on grounds of faith when recruiting staff, except for those principally responsible for optional religious instruction.
4.3 World-class teaching
Great teachers are at the heart of a successful education system. We will continue our work to attract the best into the profession and support teachers throughout their careers. We want to build the status of the teaching profession, support and nurture teachers in their work, and so drive up standards in every school.
- Guarantee all teachers in state-funded schools will be fully qualified or working towards Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) from September 2016.
- Introduce a clear and properly funded entitlement to professional development for all teachers. We will raise the bar for entry to the profession, requiring a B grade minimum in GCSE Maths and English, allowing us to abolish the separate Maths and English tests.
- Help establish a new profession-led Royal College of Teachers, eventually to oversee Qualified Teacher Status and professional development. We do not believe Ministers should dictate teaching practice and will not issue instructions about how to structure the school day or what kind of lessons to conduct.
- Continue to support the Teach First programme to attract high calibre graduates into teaching, in particular in STEM subjects.
- Tackle unnecessary teacher workload, including by:
? Avoiding policy changes while children are within a key stage.
? Establishing the right accountability framework for schools.
? Ensuring Ofsted inspections are high-quality, fair to all schools and focus on outcomes and not processes.
- Establish a new National Leadership Institute to promote highquality leadership and help the best leaders into the most challenging schools.
- Continue to work with the Education Endowment Foundation to establish a comprehensive evidence base on what works in teaching, including assessing play-based learning in early education, and tackling the attainment gap.
We need to encourage and inspire more children to study STEM subjects. At primary level we will encourage schools to have at least one science specialist among the staff, and at secondary level work to maximise the number of teachers who have degree qualifications in the subjects they teach.
4.4 Curriculum and qualifications
We want schools to have flexibility and freedom, but we also believe that both parents and children need to know that the school curriculum will cover the essentials, and that teachers will be skilled educators who know how to inspire a love of learning.
That is why we have developed our Parents’ Guarantee: every child will be taught by qualified teachers, and the core curriculum will be taught at every state-funded school. We want the highest standards in our schools, and will ensure that every child has a thorough grasp of the basics. But we also understand that a great education is about more than just learning facts: creativity should be nurtured, children should be helped to develop the life skills they will need as adults, and every pupil should be given advice and guidance about their future.
- Establish an independent Educational Standards Authority (ESA) entirely removed from Ministerial interference. The ESA will have responsibility for curriculum content and examination standards.
- Introduce a minimum curriculum entitlement – a slimmed down core national curriculum, which will be taught in all state-funded schools. This will include Personal, Social and Health Education: a ‘curriculum for life’ including financial literacy, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, citizenship, and age-appropriate sex and relationship education. To ensure all children learn about a wide range of religious and nonreligious world views, religious education will be included in the core curriculum; however we will give schools the freedom to set policy on whether to hold acts of collective worship, while ensuring any such acts are strictly optional.
- Complete the introduction of reformed GCSEs, while continuing to oppose Conservative plans for a return to the old O-level/CSE divide.
- Improve the quality of vocational education, including skills for entrepreneurship and self-employment, and improve careers advice in schools and colleges.
4.5 Improving care for looked after children
Liberal Democrats have long championed early intervention to prevent problems before they arise, but we also need to make sure we equip social workers with the skills to address these complex issues and ensure children’s safety. Where children do have to be taken into care we must make sure they find a loving home with as little disruption and instability as possible. We have done much in Government to be proud of in helping children in care and to improve social work, but we can still go further.
- Continue to invest in early intervention, further expanding the Troubled Families Programme and building on the work of the Early Intervention Foundation to spread evidence of what works.
- Expect Local Authorities to set out a clear purpose for the care system: to promote emotional wellbeing and resilience, provide a secure base on which children can be supported in their development and provide individually tailored help with recovery.
- Raise the quality and profile of children’s social work, continuing and expanding the Frontline programme – which is fast-tracking the brightest and best into the profession – to at least 300 graduate recruits each year.
- Tackle delay and instability in foster care, with better support and training for foster carers, including on mental health issues.
- Continue to make it easier for children in care to find a loving home, through the national Adoption Register and the new national gateway for adoption, a first point of contact for potential adopters. w Prevent looked after children and young people being drawn into the criminal justice system unnecessarily by promoting restorative justice.
4.6 Improving support for young adults
We want young people to face the future with optimism and confidence. The education leaving age has now risen to 18, but as children grow, their independence grows too, and the support that education and youth services provide to them and their families needs to adapt. Whether it is supporting people with the costs of travel to college or apprenticeships, or promoting positive images of young people by celebrating their successes: Liberal Democrats are on the side of the next generation.
- Work to introduce a new Young Person’s Discount Card, for young people aged 16–21, giving a 2/3rds discount on bus travel, as resources allow. This will assist all bus users by helping maintain the viability of existing bus routes and making it easier to open new ones.
- Enable government departments, local Councils and private businesses to add discount offers to the Young Person’s Discount Card.
- Review access to transport for students and apprentices in rural areas where no scheduled services may be available.
- Develop an NHS ‘student guarantee’, making it easier for students to get care and support while at university, particularly those with long-term health conditions or caring responsibilities.
- Promote social action and volunteering at school, college and university and work to raise the status of youth work and youth workers.
- Improve links between employers and schools, encouraging all schools to participate in mentoring schemes and programmes that seek to raise aspiration like Speakers for Schools and Inspiring The Future. In particular, we will seek to inspire more children and young people to follow technical and scientific careers through partnership with relevant businesses.
4.7 A world class university sector, open to all
Liberal Democrats have ensured that no undergraduate student in England has to pay a penny up front of their tuition fees. Students in England do not have to pay anything until they are earning over £21,000 per year – a figure which will increase in line with earnings – and over that income, monthly repayments are linked to earnings. This means only high-earning graduates pay their tuition fees in full. We now have the highest university application rates ever, including from disadvantaged students.
But we need to ensure higher education is accessible to all those who can benefit, including at postgraduate level. Liberal Democrats in government secured the first ever income-contingent loans scheme for graduate degrees, which we will protect and seek to extend.
- Ensure that all universities work to widen participation across the sector, prioritising early intervention in schools and colleges. This will include running summer schools and setting up mentoring programmes between students or alumni and school pupils.
- Require universities to be transparent about their selection criteria.
- Work with university ‘mission groups’ to develop a comprehensive credit accumulation and transfer framework to help students transfer between and within institutions, enable more part-time learning, and help more people to complete qualifications.
- Improve the Key Information Set and explore the option of a standardised student contract. We will legislate to reform regulation of the higher education sector, improving student protection.
- Establish a review of higher education finance within the next Parliament to consider any necessary reforms, in the light of the latest evidence of the impact of the existing financing system on access, participation (including of low-income groups) and quality. The review will cover undergraduate and postgraduate courses, with an emphasis on support for living costs for students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds.
4.8 Expanding and improving apprenticeships and further education
More people have started an apprenticeship in this Parliament than ever before. As we grow our economy, we must protect and enhance adult skills training and our further education colleges. We need to grow our skill base, especially in the technologies and industries that are most important to our economic future. We want it to become the norm for businesses to take on and train up young people as apprentices in every sector of our economy, and for higher level apprenticeships to be understood as a respected alternative to university education.
- Increase the number of apprenticeships and improve their quality, extending the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers for the remainder of the next Parliament, delivering 200,000 grants to employers and expanding the number of degree-equivalent Higher Apprenticeships.
- Aim to double the number of businesses which hire apprentices, including by extending them to new sectors of our economy, like creative and digital industries.
- Develop National Colleges as national centres of expertise for key sectors, like renewable energy, to deliver the high-level vocational skills that businesses need.
- Establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of reskilling and lifelong learning.
- Set up a review into the VAT treatment of Sixth Form Colleges and FE Colleges to ensure fair treatment in relation to the schools sector.
- Work with the Apprenticeship Advisory Group to increase the number of apprentices from BAME backgrounds, ensure gender balance across industry sectors, and encourage underrepresented groups to apply.
- Identify and seek to solve skills gaps like the lack of advanced technicians by expanding higher vocational training like foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas, Higher National Certificates and Higher Apprenticeships.