Many constituents have been in touch with me regarding education, as a recent ex-teacher myself education is a topic very dear to me.
Liberal Democrats believe in a society where every young person, no matter what their background or circumstance, can grow up to achieve anything they set their mind to. Education is key to a fairer society. To unlock the potential of education, the system must find and nurture the best in everyone.
Every child deserves a great start in life – it shouldn’t be determined by who their parents are. We want to create an education system that helps children grow into healthy and engaged members of their local community, equipped with the skills to thrive in the workplace. We can’t achieve this if our teachers feel devalued and if the school timetable is narrowly focused on climbing up the league tables.
To achieve this, it must be adequately funded. Schools in England are facing an unprecedented funding crisis, with rising pupil numbers and an inadequate financial settlement. Liberal Democrats will invest £7 billion extra in children’s education. This funding would reverse cuts to school and college budgets and protect per-pupil funding in real terms. We will also reform the national funding formula to ensure that no school loses out and protect the pupil premium in real terms.
The Conservatives are presiding over the worst school funding crisis since the mid-1990s, with rising pupil numbers and spiralling costs. At the same time, their proposed National Funding Formula addresses under-funding in some areas by robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Liberal Democrats believe that every child deserves a high-quality education, wherever they live.
We will invest an additional £6.9 billion in the core schools budget by 2022. This will mean that per pupil funding will be protected in real terms. We will replace the National Funding Formula with a fairer National Funding System. This will include a guarantee that no school loses money. We will continue to protect the Pupil Premium in real-terms as this provides schools with vital extra help for teaching disadvantaged children.
Teachers are also pivotal to unlocking the potential of education. We would work to tackle workload and recruitment issues to guarantee that the profession is attracting and keeping high quality teachers. To do this, Liberal Democrats will end the 1% cap on teachers’ pay rises and introduce a clear and properly funded entitlement to genuinely high quality professional development for all teachers –25 hours per year by 2020, rising to the OECD average of 50 hours by 2025. We will also tackle unnecessary workloads by establishing an independent Education Standards Authority to pilot, phase-in and resource future policy changes in consultation with professionals and experts.
Too many good teachers are leaving the profession due to heavy workloads and cuts to staff budgets. This has got to stop. Rather than demonising teachers, we should be empowering them, raising the status of the profession and supporting them in their work to drive up standards.
Liberal Democrats recognise the dual role of education in giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to be part of a productive, competitive economy, and helping them grow into happy, healthy and engaged members of their community. Children’s education is too often distorted by schools’ need to focus on the next set of league tables and the next inspection. We will reform Ofsted inspections so that they include a focus on longer-term outcomes and sustainable improvement as well as teacher workload, sickness and retention.
Schools should be free to encourage children to participate in a truly rounded curriculum including the arts, sport, and culture that broaden children’s learning and develop their passion for education. Liberal Democrats will introduce a 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, mental health education, citizenship, and age- appropriate Sex and Relationship Education (SRE). We will also protect the availability of arts and creative subjects in the curriculum and act to remove barriers to pupils studying these subjects, as well as improve the quality of vocational education, including skills for entrepreneurship and self-employment, and improve careers advice in schools and colleges.
Careers advice in schools and colleges often is too often not up to scratch. Liberal Democrats will help schools improve their careers advice and provide adult learners with personalised access to the careers guidance they need as well. We also want to invest in apprenticeships, technical and vocational education so they are seen as respectable alternatives to going to university.
We already have a track record on this. Just before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Lord Mike Storey convinced the Government to make Ofsted inspect the quality of careers advice in Further Education colleges. We want the Government to scrutinise careers advice in schools as well.
England’s young people are some of the most anxious and unhappy in the world. Schools are on the front line in dealing with children and young adults with mental health issues. We also know that children cannot learn properly if they are undernourished. Liberal Democrats will ensure that all teaching staff have the training to identify mental health issues and that schools provide immediate access for pupil support and counselling. We will also extend free school meals to all children in primary education and promote school breakfast clubs.
This is a bold new offer to ensure that no child misses out from the best possible start in life. Parents have a clear choice in this election. Whilst the Conservative Party is squeezing school budgets and wasting millions on pet projects such as new grammar schools, the Liberal Democrats are fighting against a destructive hard Brexit and offering a credible solution to the crisis in schools funding.
Liberal Democrats want to give all our children a brighter future in a fairer Britain where people are decent to each other, with good schools and hospitals, a clean environment and an innovative economy. Not Theresa May’s cold, mean-spirited Britain. This is about your choice over your future. A vote for the Liberal Democrats can change Britain’s future.
We are the only party that can challenge Theresa May and be the strong opposition that the UK needs.