Saturday, 11 March 2017

A Short Review of The Lib Dems' Education Policy Platform

The UK political landscape has certainly experienced a shake-up in the past few years. In May 2015 it seemed that the Lib Dems were all but washed-up as a party, having been rejected by their base and the general electorate mainly because of their record when in Coalition with the Conservatives, which saw them U-turn on their tuition fees promise. Since the Brexit referendum, the Lib Dems have seen somewhat of a resurgence, with disgruntled Labour and Conservative Remain voters switching to the Lib Dems as they have marked themselves out as the "party of the 48%". Yet there is more to the Lib Dem party platform than their policy on Brexit. One area I wanted to find out more about was what the Lib Dems currently think about education in England and Wales, especially in light of the Conservative Government's decision to provide £320m funding for grammar schools and 110 free schools instead of increasing "per pupil" funding in all schools. John Pugh, the Lib Dems Education Secretary said that funding should be used to "reverse the devastating £3bn of school budgets that will see an 8% cut in per pupil funding by 2020" and clearly comprehensive/state maintained schools are worried about how to keep their school running effectively as such cuts kick in.

Here are some key findings below:
  • The Lib Dems "strongly oppose" the grammar school extension policy proposed by PM May and Justine Greening on the basis that entry requirements (such as English, Maths and Science tests that go beyond SATs ) are got round easily. Middle and upper middle class parents can afford to get private tutors in to coach their child to answer specimen questions whereas working class parents would have to rely on sympathetic primary school teachers offering extra tuition after school for their children. John Pugh believes that Mr Hammond guaranteeing free school transport only to those students on free school meals in selective schools is discriminatory; it'd be fairer to extend the policy to all children on free school meals.
  • The Lib Dems are also highly critical of the Free Schools Programme, which has "overspent to the tune of billions of pounds" whilst existing schools are struggling to pay staff, pay for resources and see the building infrastructure crumble around them.
  • Restricting subject choice in schools is also quite a worrying prospect; students should have as much variety as possible in Arts and Social Science subjects. Not every student wants to study Biology or English Literature; some may want to study Philosophy or Psychology.
  • The Lib Dems helped to introduce the Pupil Premium whilst in the Coalition Government which gave additional funding to help support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They now pledge to protect "real term funding" for education, from the early year nurseries through to colleges and sixth forms.
  • The fact that some headteachers are considering cutting teaching hours as a result of funding is quite scary, especially if those teaching hours were cut in Arts subjects such as Drama or Art.
  • The Lib Dems acknowledge that children and young people must have the skills they need to equip them for the working world; they support the introduction of Coding onto the National Curriculum to help foster a love for IT so they can possibly become coders and plug the skills gap. However, the Lib Dems also believe that PM May's Government are focussing too much on getting teachers to coach children through exams rather than helping to foster creativity and help to build self-confidence. They don't want to see children miss out on Art, Music and Sport because of lack of funding for musical equipment or no playing fields to do outdoor athletics. The Lib Dems want a "broad, balanced curriculum" put in place in all schools in England and Wales that also includes practical skills like "financial literacy, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills" as well as "citizenship".
  • The Lib Dems support the Government's decision to implement age-appropriate sex and relationships education in all schools, starting at the age of 4.
  • The Lib Dems helped to create a "record number of apprenticeships" whilst they were in coalition with the Conservatives and would like to see more opportunities available for those 25 and older and to also help more disabled people back into work through giving them worthwhile apprenticeship opportunities that should lead to sustainable jobs in the future.
  • The Lib Dems want to see greater investment in further education colleges and adult skills training, making sure the courses offered are worthwhile if work-related and delivered by qualified, passionate instructors.
  • The Lib Dems want to work with education professionals and teaching unions to help address recruitment and retention issues. The Liberal Democrat Education Association is one organisation that aims to give educational professionals a chance to help shape the Lib Dems education policy platform to make sure that it can be as progressive as possible. For example, Peter Downes' blog on the impact of Brexit on education "How will Brexit affect education?" states that teachers in subjects such as Politics, Sociology and RE may be exploring the impact of Brexit on the UK; Downes says that "Sociology teachers will be looking at the outcome in terms of social relations, inclusivity and the re-awakening of class and geographic divisions." That's not to say that Sociology teachers will be automatically biased against Brexit as some campaigners who believe the education system is too "liberal leftie" might suggest. Downes also posits that Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) studied in comprehensives may change, from an emphasis on French and Spanish to Mandarin, Arabic and Russian.