Monday, 5 June 2017

Exploring the GE2017 Manifestos: Education

This week has seen the launch of the mainstream (Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative) manifestos As an independent (that's still leaning towards Labour at the moment) I was keen to explore the manifestos to see which centre and centre-left policies have made the final cut. In terms of layout and presentation I must say that Labour and the Lib Dems have done well; it's easy to scroll through and access the sections that interest me particularly whereas the Conservative manifesto's more verbose and in paragraph style, which can be difficult for voters with learning differences to follow. Anyways, I guess it's only polite for me to offer my initial thoughts on the manifestos, starting with one of my interest areas, Education.

Labour:
"The National Education Service"
Labour knows the importance of making education and training accessible to all people in the UK. This means providing opportunities for those who wish to upskill, retrain to improve their job prospects and those who wish to learn new skills as part of an evening community course as well as helping young people who wish to attend sixth form to study A-Levels or attend university without having to worry about a massive debt burden. Labour wishes to create a "National Education Service" that provides opportunities "from the cradle to the grave" which is "free at the point of use". Seeing education "in the round" is a very progressive and radical concept.
  • There would be a "complete overhaul" of the childcare system, which would include direct subsidies being given to parents "who often struggle to use them" (no idea what this refers to); The commitment to providing 30 hours of free childcare would be extended to 2 year olds which would help more mothers in particular to try and find part-time work is welcome and I find the idea of "phasing in subsided provision" beyond the 30 hour entitlement interesting provided the entitlement wasn't given out universally (why should those on the National Living Wage subsidise childcare for parents earning over £100,000 a year for example? Not even the Conservatives allow this to happen currently). I'm pleased to see there is a wish to create a "graduate-led workforce" in childcare but this must include giving current employees access to appropriate training and development otherwise this "desire" would be discriminative. Extending maternity pay to one year would also be welcome news.
  • Labour would stop Sure Start closures and increase funding (although there's no idea in the manifesto how much would be allocated to the Sure Start (in the funding document it suggests that it'd be part of the overall childcare budget cost which would be £5.3bn). 
  • Conservative plans to cut overall school funding by £3bn by 2020 will be reversed under a Labour Government. Instead Labour would introduce a fairer funding formula of their own. 
  • Labour would invest in repairing school buildings and pay for the phased removal of asbestos (this needs to be done).
  • Joined-up admissions policies which would apply to every local authority school so that councils can ensure every child has a school place sounds OK on paper; there shouldn't be any child left without a school place and simpler admissions procedures would apply to teachers as well as parents. However, not quite sure how this would work in practice and what criteria would be applied across the board. 
  • Reducing class sizes in primary schools for 5, 6 and 7 year olds to below 30 will appeal to teachers and some parents but it will require the recruitment of more teachers and teaching assistants to work in practice. That means staffing budget costs will increase. 
  • Introducing free school meals for all primary school pupils in England again sounds good on paper but is it right for wealthy pupils to receive a free school meal? 
  • I tend to be more in favour of "continuous assessment" aka formative assessment as opposed to summative assessment alone because it allows for students to improve their overall performance as they go along; they have more awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and can develop their own learning styles. Therefore I'm pleased to see a commitment not to reintroduce baseline tests (which teachers have argued creates unnecessary workload and risks pupil self-confidence development) and for there to be a review into the National Curriculum Key Stages 1 and 2 SATs (after the National Union of Teachers threatened to strike after the "chaotic" introduction of new SAT tests). 
  • Labour would allow education professionals to be "directly involved in the National Curriculum"; I'm not sure whether this means they would be able to make suggestions as to content or assessment methods. 
  • Labour would try to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers; it seems this would be achieved by reducing monitoring paperwork but again there is no detail here.
  • Having a consultation on the feasibility of introducing teacher sabbaticals and work experience placements in industry does sound like a good idea as it would give teachers the chance to gain some understanding of certain industries that their students could consider entering should they be successful with their qualifications. 
  • Labour would reintroduce the Schools Support Staff Negotiating Body (which was abolished under the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Government in 2010). The Body would help devise a national pay and conditions scheme for caretakers, school office workers and teaching assistants. Currently decisions on pay are taken on a local level by local authorities. 
  • I was shocked to read that schools are being made to pay the Apprenticeship Levy; schools are not primarily businesses, even if apprentices are being taken on in administrative positions in school offices. Labour states that by abolishing the levy plan it would mean £150m would be put directly back into schools. That's not a figure to be sniffed at.
  • Having a national schools counselling service in England is a great idea; young people's mental health needs must be met and counselling can be one way of doing this. £90m does sound a fair chunk to pay but why should counselling services only be available to some schools?
  • I look forward to seeing more detail on Labour's SEND (Special Educational Needs) strategy in the future. As a dyspraxic person who benefitted greatly from 1-1 psychotherapy and educational psychologist supervision at primary and junior school in the late 1990's, I understand the importance of early years intervention; without having dedicated support whilst young I'd have never have achieved the GCSEs and A-Levels (5 A's and 1 C at A-Level and 1 AS at Grade B) to have attended University. I do believe more mainstream primary, junior and secondary school teachers need more training on how to support SEND students in their classes and if such training can be embedded into Continuing Professional Development plans it would help improve student outcomes, particularly amongst students with learning disabilities (or as I like to say, learning differences). Modern Foreign Language teachers for example could learn different visual techniques to reach dyslexic and dyspraxic students who may be struggling with spelling and learning new grammatical patterns. I know it can be done because I managed to achieve A*s in French, German and Spanish at GCSE and then went on to study A Level French and German. 
  • Under a Labour Government, funding for post 16 education at Key Stage 5 would be split between FE colleges and sixth forms roughly equally (although there are currently 93 sixth form colleges in England 
  • Introducing free adult education in FE colleges would be a fantastic achievement for a future Labour Government. As I previously thought, the Conservative plans for new technical colleges would be abandoned, with the money being put back into funding for more FE lecturers. 
  • Labour would implement the proposals put forward in the Sainsbury review, with technical pathways (or T-Levels) being available in service industries (which would include accounting and finance, hairdressing and the law...see more on the Sainsbury Review here: https://www.tes.com/news/further-education/breaking-news/sainsbury-review-what-changes-are-way-post-16-education). Labour would also provide funding so that FE colleges could help deliver an official pre-apprenticeship training programme that I imagine would include a basic grounding in English and Maths (and perhaps even IT).
  • Labour are committed to improving Careers Advice in colleges so that students can be given the comprehensive information they need to make decisions on their future. 
  • Labour would restore the Educational Maintenance Allowance for 16-18 year olds (but only from working class and middle class backgrounds...i.e. there would be a means-test threshold in place for access to the allowance; a welcome move).
  • There would no longer be a need for FE students to take out Advanced Learner Loans; instead the funding would be provided directly to FE colleges. English as a Second Language (ESOL) courses would be provided free, meaning that immigrants will have the access to the training they need to improve their English Language proficiency without worrying about cost.
  • Labour would set a target for all FE lecturers to have a teaching qualification (e.g. Diploma in Education in the Lifelong Sector) within the next 5 years with funding being in place to allow teachers to attend training (some FE colleges provide this already but any help with costs would be welcome). 
  • Teachers in the private sector would also get funding to help cover training costs. 
  • Labour does support the Apprenticeships Levy but would make sure that apprenticeships provided are of a high quality. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education would produce an annual report for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which "details the quality outcomes of completed apprenticeships" so that the Secretary can see that apprenticeships are being delivered that help apprentices get into "real jobs" by the end of their training and that employers do have appropriately qualified and productive staff as a result of taking apprentices on. 
  • Labour have set a target of doubling the number of completed apprenticeships at Level 3 by 2022.
  • Labour would set targets to increase apprenticeship opportunities for disabled people, care leavers and veterans; this would be a positive step forward depending on the number of apprenticeships offered in different occupational areas and the reasonable adjustments that can be put in place for disabled apprentices. It's also good to see a broad vision to increase take-up of apprenticeships amongst the BAME and LGBTQIA+ communities and hopefully break down gender job stereotypes. 
  • Employers would get more control over how they spend the apprenticeship levy, including the ability to use some of it to help apprentices go through pre-apprenticeship training programmes (even though Labour have said before that some funding would be put in place for official pre-apprenticeship training programmes). 
  • Trade Unions would get statutory representation within the Institute of Apprenticeships (no idea why trade unions actually need this but it fits in with Labour's overarching vision for expansion of trade union rights).
  • Labour would "reverse cuts to Unionlearn"; most of us have no idea what Unionlearn is but essentially it's a learning platform for trade union members run by the Trade Union Congress (TUC)'s Learning and Skills Organisation under an agreement with the Department for Education to help them improve general literacy and numeracy skills as well as working with employers to promote high quality Apprenticeships. Unionlearn also provide courses for TUC reps free of charge. There are over 26,000 Union Learning Reps currently involved with Unionlearn.
  • Protecting the £440m of funding for small and medium sized businesses to provide apprenticeships is a good idea; it's important for those apprenticeships to be made more available to a wider cross-section of society, including those over 25 who want to change careers.
  • Labour are looking at providing incentives for larger firms to train apprentices to "fill skills gaps in the supply chain"; of course there also has to be a wider promotion of the advantages of working in the supply sector to potential recruits -e.g. more job security, chance for career progression etc.
  • Labour also wants to set up a Lifelong Learning Commission to look into ways of integrating Further Education and Higher Education. I'm not sure whether this means looking at how FE colleges can offer vocational degrees (although that already happens in a number of subjects at my local FE college, Lincoln College). 
  • Labour promises to abolish tuition fees (I'm guessing within the next 5 years) for all students (although it would be helpful for students and universities to know when the funding for the courses would come into effect). Labour would also reintroduce maintenance allowances for university students, although it is unclear whether there would be a means-test for these allowances (e.g. whether the student qualified for the EMA whilst at sixth form/college). Both of these measures would cost the UK an estimated £11.2bn). 
Lib Dems:
  • The Lib Dems believe that current funding plans (i.e. The National Fair Funding Formula) scheduled for schools in England are actually unfair. So they would invest £7bn into education by:
    •  reversing the £3bn cuts that would be imposed on frontline services and colleges, meaning that per-pupil funding would be protected.
    • introducing a Fair Funding System but ensure there is protection for all schools so they "do not lose out in cash terms" 
    • protecting the Pupil Premium so that students from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to receive the extra help that can enable them to succeed academically.
  • The Lib Dems want to add an extra £1,000 per pupil, per year to the Early Years Pupil Premium. The Premium is given to early years providers who look after 3 and 4 year olds who are receiving a government-funded education and whose parents are on benefits which are used to calculate free-school meal eligibility (the government definition of a "disadvantaged 3/4 year old). 
  • The Lib Dems also want to ensure that early years providers are suitable qualified, with at least one professional holding an Early Years Teacher qualification being employed "in a formal early years setting" by 2022. 
  • The Lib Dems, like Labour, want to end the public sector pay cap.
  • The Lib Dems want every teacher in state-funded schools to be working towards Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or be fully qualified by January 2019; ambitious but I believe it's essential that teachers have the knowledge and skills they need to be able to deliver high-quality lessons to their students. I like the idea of there being funded Continuing Professional Development hours (25 by 2020) for teachers as it will help them develop skills needed to be successful in a changing educational environment, especially digital skills. I also hope that some teachers would be able to benefit from learning frameworks and strategies to help support students with learning disabilities/differences (dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia) and also to support students who may be experiencing mental health issues related to stress/anxiety and depression. 
  • I agree with the Lib Dems that there needs to be a much more effective teacher recruitment strategy in place to fill positions in shortage subjects such as Science and Maths and liaising with Teach First could help in this respect. I do believe more needs to be done to encourage LGBTQIA+ and disabled graduates to consider a career in teaching as students who identify as LGBTQIA+ or are disabled would greatly benefit from having a role-model to look upto. 
  • Teachers often say that they are being burdened with unnecessary bureaucracy and there needs to be a practical way of reducing the burden. Labour's response was to allow education professionals to get involved with government decision making but the Lib Dem response is slightly more nuanced:
    • Establish an Independent Education Standards Authority which will run trials to test the effectiveness of future education policy, with the results analysed and evaluated by education professionals
    • Reform Ofsted inspections so there is a greater emphasis on longer-term student outcomes and also to look at teacher workload, sickness and retention rates in individual schools to see how they could be reduced in a sustainable way
    • Support the setting-up of a Independent Foundation for Leadership in Education (under the umbrella of the existing Chartered College of Teaching) to help support leaders who are trying to and succeeding to turn around challenging schools.
  • The Lib Dems would also continue to work with the Education Endowment Foundation (an independent charity founded by The Sutton Trust that aims to improve attainment outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds; read more about their aims here: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/about/). 
  • The Lib Dems would repeal the rule that all new state-funded schools must be free-schools or academies. Instead, local authorities would be given the responsibility for local school places planning and outstanding local headteachers would be encouraged to work together with other schools to drive up standards across the local authority area.
  • The Lib Dems, like Labour, are also opposed to the expansion of grammar schools. The £320m earmarked would be given to local authorities directly so that they can create additional school places. 
  • Ofsted would be given powers to inspect free-schools and academy chains.
  • The Lib Dems would not build any new "profit-making" state schools.
  • The Lib Dems argue that new schools should only be built in areas where there are not enough school places; there's no point building a school "just for the sake of it". 
  • I believe it's imperative that children are identified and assessed for special educational needs support as soon as possible. As I've mentioned above, I was very lucky to be assessed early on in my academic career and support was put in place that enabled me to develop coping strategies to overcome barriers that came about as a result of my dyspraxia. So I'm glad that the Lib Dems have noted the need for schools to invest time in identifying needs of SEN pupils and that every staff member in the school knows their responsibilities under the Equality Act.
  • I'm interested in the Lib Dems' idea for a "slimmed down core curriculum". When I think of a statutory curriculum, I see Personal, Social and Health Education, Art, Drama, Music, History, Geography, Religious Studies, ICT (including coding), Modern Foreign Languages and Physical Education (PE) as key components alongside English, Maths and Science. Interestingly, the Lib Dems understand that there also needs to be life skills embedded into the National Curriculum that will help students deal with the reality of life after school. I can't see many people objecting to their secondary school kid(s) learning how to be responsible with their money (financial literacy), how to vote (Citizenship) and how to offer emergency first aid to a friend. I'm personally pleased to see a commitment to introducing Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) that is LGBT+ inclusive. The Conservatives have suggested that they will "offer guidance" on LGBT+ relationships and issues but it seems from the absence of LGBT+ issues from the manifesto that it wouldn't be a priority and may not be taught in all schools. Labour would "look into" making SRE LGBT+ inclusive after further consultation with organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust. 
  • The Education Standards Authority would be asked to pilot, phase-in and resource future changes to the "slimmed down core curriculum". 
  • The Lib Dems want to reform SATs at Key Stage 2. 
  • The Lib Dems would "protect the availability of arts and creative subjects" but unlike Labour there is no commitment to bring in a specific Arts Pupil Premium.
  • The Lib Dems say they wish to improve vocational education, with schools partnering with local businesses to create "employment and enterprise schemes".
  • The Lib Dems will challenge gender stereotyping, encouraging teachers to talk about positive body image and break down stereotypes by promoting role models who challenged gender norms-e,g. Ava Lovelace and Grace Hopper. 
  • The Lib Dems want to ensure that all teaching staff have a minimum amount of training on how to identify mental health issues, with schools providing access to immediate counselling services (difficult when there are a shortage of mental health professionals).
  • The Lib Dems, like Labour and unlike the Conservatives, want to extend free school meals to all children and promote breakfast clubs. 
  • The Lib Dems would establish a "Family University", with resources created by experts at the BBC and Open University accessible to all families online to help them deal with parenting  challenges (e.g. gender-fluid/ non-conforming children). 
  • The Lib Dems, like Labour and the Conservatives are committed to tackling bullying in schools on the basis of gender, sexuality, gender identity or gender expression (but no extra funding has been specifically allocated).
  • The Lib Dems would reinstate university maintenance grants "for the poorest students".
  • The Lib Dems want to "establish a higher education (HE) finance review" to look at reforms needed to make the HE sector sustainable long-term and ensure that no student loan accounts are sold off to private companies.
  • The Lib Dems want to retain access to Horizon 2020 (the EU's Research and Innovation programme) and the Marie-Sklodowska-Curie Actions, which help support researchers in the UK. A recent UK recipient of Marie-Sklodowska-Curie Actions, David Parker, is currently involved in analysing anti-radicalisation strategy differences between the UK and Denmark (https://ec.europa.eu/research/mariecurieactions/100-000-fellows_en). 
  • The Lib Dems want to double the number of businesses hiring apprentices and looking at extending apprenticeships to the creative & digital industries, meaning that they may become available in usually unpaid internship heavy areas such as PR and Fashion.
  • The Lib Dems would develop "National Colleges" to deliver high quality vocational education to those wishing to enter the renewable energy sector.
  • The Lib Dems will work with the Apprenticeship Advisory Group to encourage people from underrepresented groups to apply for apprenticeships.
  • The Lib Dems would expand higher vocational training programmes, such as foundation degrees and Higher National Diplomas.
  • All receipts from the Apprenticeship Levy would be spent on training.
  • The Lib Dems aim to address the basic skills need by ensuring that apprentices and employees have the literacy, numeracy and digital skills they need by 2030.
  • The Lib Dems would ensure that all adults in colleges and on apprenticeships had individual access to careers advice.
  • The Lib Dems would allow more students to transfer credits and receive recognition of prior learning and qualifications where appropriate.
Conservatives:
"The Great Meritocracy" 
  • The Conservatives pledge to fund an extra 100 free schools a year.
  • The Conservatives would stop any councils from expanding school places in schools that have been rated by Ofsted as "inadequate" or "requires improvement".  
  • Universities that want to charge the maximum amount of tuition fees would need to help found or sponsor free schools (I'm guessing this would be in their immediate area-i.e. within 5 or 10 miles of the University?) 100 leading independent schools would also be allowed to get involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools, with the Conservatives stating that the "tax status" of independent schools may change if they don't help. I don't see Eton or Harrow as a charity so I'd be more than happy to see the status change already! 
  • The Conservatives will put funding in place (the manifesto doesn't say how much) "to create a specialist maths school in every major city in England". I'm guessing that's Lincoln's luck out.
  • The Conservatives want to expand faith schools in England, especially Roman Catholic ones, changing the rules so that faith schools only need to prove their school is accessible to students and parents of any faith or who are atheist (they don't actually need to have any children with atheist parents attending). No indication of whether such schools would need to prove they are LGBTQIA+ inclusive!
  • The Conservatives reaffirm their commitment to lifting the ban on new selective schools (grammars) and allowing them to take students on beyond the 11+ exam. I didn't attend a grammar school and yet I managed to succeed, despite my learning disability. I'm OK with the expansion in principle but I'd rather see school places increased in non-selective schools first.
  • The Conservatives want to "strengthen literacy and numeracy" teaching in the early years but don't really give any idea as to how that would happen other than referring to the phonics screening test and ensuring that "every child knows their times-tables off by heart by the age of 11". The problem with such an expectation is that those with dyscalculia or other learning differences may find it difficult to achieve. I achieved a Level 4 in my Maths KS2 SATs but I didn't know my times-tables off by heart until I was 13 years old because it was difficult for me at the time to retain the information. When I sat KS3 SATs I achieved a Level 6 in Maths which was considered average and still achieved a Grade B at GCSE. So the times-table element alone won't really demonstrate a nuanced understanding of numeracy and there is the argument over whether "learning by rote" is really necessary in a digitised society, where we can calculate sums easily on smartphones.
  • The Conservatives will "improve schools' accountability at KS3" but no idea is given as to how they may achieve this.
  • The Conservatives remain committed to the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) wanting 75% of students to study for the EBacc by 2022. It's a good idea that students do get to study history or geography as it allows them to gain an understanding of UK and world issues (past and present) but I wish that Art/Drama/Music was included as an option alongside the Modern Foreign Language requirement, hence why I support the Bacc for the Future campaign: http://www.baccforthefuture.com/. 
  • The Conservatives would create a "curriculum fund" to allow institutions such as the British Museum to create resources to be used in the classroom. 
  • The Conservatives want to reduce "teaching the test" and ensure that primary assessments are conducted from "a rich knowledge base"....no idea what that rich knowledge base actually entails.
  • The Conservatives would continue to offer teaching bursaries in shortage subjects and offer an incentive for teachers to remain in the profession by offering to pay off student loan repayments whilst they remain in the profession. 
  • The Conservatives say they would "bring in dedicated support" for teachers to access throughout their career but unlike the Lib Dems they provide no detail.
  • The Conservatives want to create a teaching version of the NHS Jobs portal, so that adverts are completely accessible to graduates from across the UK instead of being advertised on the local authority website. This would provide efficiency savings in the long-term.
  • The Conservatives claim that their new funding formula will be fairer to all schools. They would protect every school budget under the new formula. They'd also protect the Pupil Premium and increase the overall schools budget by £4bn by 2022. 
  • The Conservatives will defund universal free school meals and instead provide free breakfasts to every child in England during their entire primary education and then fund free school meals for low-income families. There's a question as to whether school hours would need to change to facilitate free breakfast provision and also whether parents are prepared to take their children to school earlier to take advantage of the provision.
  • The Conservatives will introduce T-Levels (replacing 13,000 existing qualifications) and increase teaching hours to 900 per year, with each student being given a three month work placement (hopefully local businesses can liaise with colleges to facilitate this). 
  • The Conservatives pledge to invest in FE colleges (but no idea how much) to help improve their facilities.
  • The Conservatives want to introduce a "new national programme" to recruit experienced industry professionals into the FE sector (but my Accountancy tutors at Lincoln College already had years of practical experience).
  • The Conservatives will create an "Institute of Technology" (IoTSs) in every major city in England that liaises with local businesses and universities. The IoTs would provide degrees in STEM subjects as well as Higher-Level apprenticeships. The IoTSs would be given the ability to apply for public funding for productivity and skills research and students would have access to grants and loans and be able to gain royal charter status and professorships in technical education. Absolutely no idea how much this would all cost though.
  • The Conservatives will launch a review into tertiary education so that "further, technical and higher education institutions will be treated fairly". 
  • The Conservatives remain committed to delivering 3 million apprenticeships (for young people only it seems) by 2020. 
  • Larger firms will be able to transfer Apprenticeship Levy payments to small firms within their supply chain and a national programme will be created so that apprentices can be placed into those firms.
  • Teaching apprenticeships in STEM subjects "will be explored" over the next 5 years.
  • A UCAS style portal will be created for technical education.
  • Apprentices will be given "significantly discounted" bus and train fares for apprentices but no such pledge is in place for college attendees. There's no commitment to reintroduce the Education Maintenance Allowance either.
  • As I've mentioned before, the Conservatives offering a right to request leave for training sounds OK but it depends what kind of training would be covered under the request; at the moment employers do tend to allow their employees to attend training courses that relate directly to their job position. 
  • The "National Retraining Scheme" sounds great for those in businesses who need to retrain to maintain their job. It's good that the Government would meet the cost of the scheme but I'm unsure as to whether the Apprenticeship Levy should be used by employers to fund wage costs whilst on the scheme. 
  • The Conservatives want to help public sector workers gain access to higher-level roles by funding their training through "degree apprenticeships". There are teaching assistants who have a lot of experience in a classroom setting but are unable to become teachers because of "prior educational attainment"; I only hope that the apprenticeship includes the same level of training as would be given through a PGCE programme. 
  • There certainly should be a right to access digital skills training throughout our lives. Technology is constantly changing and we will need to upskill from time-to-time to adapt. However I am not sure whether this means that the Conservatives will continue to fund ECDL courses which do help to improve digital literacy.
  • The Conservatives would also keep students within the immigration target for the UK (even though the Russell Group of Universities has warned that this policy might not be "productive" and there could actually be "a cap on legitimate international students". The manifesto itself says that the Conservatives aim to "toughen visa requirements for students" who come from outside the EU and expect them to leave the country "unless they meet new, higher requirements" (there's no indication what these requirements would be or whether they would impact adversely on Arts graduates or those who cannot find what the Conservatives would deem "suitable employment" within what I reckon would be a very small time frame). All I keep thinking when I see these plans is "BluKIP" in action...
Thoughts:

There is such an incredible amount of information to take in but I did notice some key differences in priorities between these 3 parties. Labour are very much focussed on improving funding in schools and ensuring that universal entitlements are maintained and extended to the FE and HE sector fees. The Lib Dems have want to reform the National Curriculum to make it "fit-for-purpose" for all students and to reduce unnecessary bureaucratic burdens placed on teachers. The Conservatives have policies to reform technical/vocational education in England and to set up better systems for advertising teaching positions and also create a UCAS points style system for technical education. Labour and the Lib Dems are against the expansion of selective schools and would allow local authorities to create school places whereas the Conservatives want to expand selective schools, free schools, academies and faith schools under the banner of "school choice". Labour and the Lib Dems have committed to lifting the pay cap on teaching professionals whereas the Conservatives believe that the pay cap is essential because it helps the Government to "bring down the deficit". Labour and the Lib Dems show they value Arts education in their manifestos, with Labour going further by promising an Arts Pupil Premium for primary schools in England. The Conservatives do not even mention the importance of Arts education in their manifesto, even though they realise that the creative industries make a sizable contribution to the UK economy (£84.1bn in 2014 or 5.4% according to Government figures published in January 2016: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/creative-industries-economic-estimates-january-2016/creative-industries-economic-estimates-january-2016-key-findings). The Conservatives seem to be very focussed on building new types of technical schools (but only in what they would deem "major" cities in England) but still want UK taxpayers to believe that austerity measures are vital to bringing down the deficit. Labour and the Lib Dems do have plans for technical education that do not involve expensive building projects. The Conservatives and Labour agree that FE and HE should be better integrated, with both promising to review current funding.

All three parties thankfully agree that SRE should be implemented in schools but Labour and the Lib Dems place (quite rightly) an emphasis on making SRE LGBT+ inclusive, rather than just relying on the proposed dissemination of very basic guidance sheets to teachers. The Conservatives want to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying but do not realise that the best way to do this is to educate children about gender identity and sexuality in a sensitive, age-appropriate way. Bullying can happen as a result of ignorance about gender identity and sexuality, after all and it takes more than the odd visit from a LGBT+ person from Stonewall to change the views of some students (and staff). I also believe that LGBT+ SRE should be mandatorily taught in faith schools so that the existence of LGBT+ people cannot be denied on the basis of religious fundamentalism. I understand that some devout Christians may be upset at such a proposal but if PM May and her Tory party truly believes in liberal values, then they should be prepared to insist on teachers and faith leaders in faith schools to teach about LGBT+ issues in a positive and inclusive manner.

Labour will reverse real term school budget cuts that have happened since 2015 and protect per-pupil spending in real terms over the course of the next parliament, meaning that there would be a 6% increase in per pupil spending after inflation over the next 5 years. Funding is needed in state-maintained non-selective schools to ensure that a broad National Curriculum can be delivered and teaching assistant staff can keep their jobs. Labour of course will attract votes from those who'd love to see tuition fees abolished and university maintenance grants reintroduced. I do wonder whether it's practical to hope that tuition fees can be abolished (because of what happened with the Lib Dem promise in the 2010 General Election but then they were in a coalition with the Conservatives) but at least Labour did provide a costing. The universal Free School Meals policy ruffled a few feathers but only because those parents who choose to send their children to an independent school would have to pay more VAT under a Labour Government. For many parents on the National Living Wage or who are unemployed, they do not have the ability to always provide their child with a healthy packed lunch, let alone dream of sending their child to an independent school. Attending an independent school is also no guarantee of academic success but the contact network made whilst attending the school can mean they have more chance of securing the entry-level job they need early on in their chosen career path to succeed. We need to level the playing field any way that we can. I just do not believe that grammar schools, free schools or faith schools are the answer.

There are other Labour policies that seem common sense to adopt; for example improving careers advice services and putting in £13bn to bring school buildings up to standard. The sabbaticals proposal is interesting but I do wonder how much it would cost to implement and what the take-up rate would be like. I must add that New Labour did launch a pilot sabbatical programme in 2001 that gave experienced teachers in challenging schools the chance to take one but it was scrapped in 2004 because of low-take up rates. That being said, a recent poll conducted by Schools Week (http://schoolsweek.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Election-supplement-2017-digi.pdf) found that more than 80% of teachers agreed with Corbyn on the idea of introducing teacher sabbaticals, so perhaps take-up rates will be higher under a future Labour Government! The poll also found that teachers are eager to see national pay conditions extended to academies but the idea of scrapping baseline tests altogether for primary school pupils received mixed reviews.

Of course Labour could run the risk of over-promising and under-delivering if they were to win a majority over the next parliamentary term. A lot of Labour's education policies look good on paper, especially the pledge to increase free childcare hours to 2 year olds but is such a pledge truly deliverable? There's also a question of fairness. Is it fair to make meals free to the children of multi-millionaires who happen to attend a state primary school? Is it fair that tuition fees are made available to children of multi-millionaires? Offering a universal benefit that isn't means-tested has its downfalls but at least the EMA and probably the maintenance grant would be means-tested. When the Lib Dems failed to deliver on their pledge to "phase out tuition fees within 6 years and scrap final year fees immediately" whilst in Coalition Government, they did end up losing student and graduate support in marginal constituencies. Yet the Lib Dems couldn't implement all of their policies when they were power-sharing with a right-wing party that was intent on pressing forward with school choice vanity project free schools and academies rather than looking at the fairness of tuition fees or properly funding our FE colleges and the Lib Dem policies offered in this manifesto, including the proposal for a "Family University" to offer advice on parenting does seem practical.

Despite some concerns I have on Labour's universal education commitments, I am worried by the Conservatives' vision for our education system. I do not believe that we should be expanding selective school places at a time when non-selective school places need to be expanded first. I'm unsure as to whether relaxing rules on faith school admissions will actually lead to any improvement of attainment levels in my local area. Equally I wonder whether we really need to expand grammar schools when there is no conclusive evidence to prove that going to a grammar school helps to aid social mobility in the long-term? Lincoln has no grammar school at the moment and I've heard very few parents talk about the need for one. It seems ridiculous to me that £320m has been earmarked for the expansion of grammar schools and free schools when the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found that school spending overall will fall by a further 3% by 2020-21. The Schools Week poll found that more than 50% of respondents disagreed very strongly with the Tories lifting the ban on grammar schools. That being said, more than 50% of respondents agreed with the concept of non-degree teaching apprenticeships for teaching assistants to help ease the recruitment situation and I'd say it was an area that Labour should consider looking into if it were to win the election.

The issue of teacher recruitment and retention is an important one to address. I find it baffling that the Conservatives are still unwilling to lift the 1% cap on public sector pay (including teachers) and I'm not sure the offer of student loan relief (I'm guessing for Newly Qualified Teachers and those who'd embark on a PGCE programme from this year onwards only) will entice many graduates and teachers to vote Conservative; not when Labour's offering to abolish tuition fees overall and to scrap the cap. The Lib Dems argue that further collaboration with Teach First to help recruit more Science and Maths teachers and reducing unnecessary bureaucracy in the classroom, as well as setting up an Independent Foundation for Leadership in Education will help to recruit passionate teachers and improve retention rates. Labour haven't specifically addressed teacher recruitment and retention in their manifesto, which is an unfortunate omission but I'd be pleased to hear Angela Rayner's suggestions in the future.

There was also rather embarrassing costing fiasco concerning Tory plans for providing free breakfasts for primary school pupils (£60m spend would mean that only 6.8p would be spent on a breakfast per pupil when it is estimated £600m would be needed, given that a breakfast containing bacon, two sausages, one egg and bread would cost 85p per portion...http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/election-2017-conservatives-free-school-breakfast-7p-per-meal-lunch-scrap-education-manifesto-a7752991.html). If the Tories can get their costings so wrong on a reasonably progressive education policy, will they not have budgeted properly for specialist Maths colleges? I have no idea how much it'll cost to build them, let alone staff them. Is there a need for specialist maths schools? Why can't we just expand places in schools that have achieved Maths College status? What about specialist science and technology colleges? I attended one (but it became an academy). If we are more flush than previously thought, why don't we increase funding for non-selective schools and scrap the pay cap on teachers? Nobody has yet made a cogent argument as to why there is an actual need to expand the types of school in the Lincoln area rather than expand funding for existing schools first.

Equally I believe that keeping foreign students within the immigration quota is short-sighted and ridiculous; we should be pleased that students from all over the world choose to study in the UK because it demonstrates just how well-respected our academic institutions still are. The lack of a commitment to the Erasmus Programme in the Tory manifesto was also disappointing; Full Fact found that 27,100 EU students came to study at a UK university and 14, 600 UK students went abroad in the 2012/13 academic year alone: https://fullfact.org/europe/british-students-and-eu/. Labour should also fully commit to allowing UK and EU students to take part in the Erasmus Programme, as well as matching the Lib Dem commitment to keeping the UK in the Horizon 2020 programme so that collaboration on research and development projects with the EU increases rather than reduces after Brexit.

I want a bold progressive vision for education system; one that promotes inclusive education, one that values teachers regardless of which subject area they choose to specialise in or where their degree came from and one that has a clear funding strategy in place to help non-selective primary schools afford to buy the resources they need to teach creative subjects. The Conservatives think their plan for education is bold and progressive but each time PM May tries to explain it, it sounds less and less progressive and more and more pie-in-the-sky. Therefore, I believe on balance that Labour can provide a progressive vision despite my initial concerns over free school meals and tuition fees. It is better to ensure that every child has access to a nutritious, healthy meal whilst at school and I'm happy to invest in the future of British creative industries by fostering a love for the Arts at primary school age that might lead to them choosing to study Theatre Studies or English Literature at University and then enter the creative industries sector afterwards. Yes it's OK to bring in incentives to recruit Science and Maths teachers so that more students are taught those subjects in an exciting but competent manner but not every student will want to be an engineer or a computer programmer. We can't mould children into the desired economic shape; we have to foster a passion for a subject. That takes time and it takes passionate teachers and passionate teachers probably are more interested in seeing their bureaucratic workload reduce and their overall pay increase rather than receive short-term student loan "forgiveness" that will probably end when the Tories lose power or end up being restricted to STEM subjects.  Let's focus on improving standards in non-selective schools and making them all truly inclusive, passionate places of learning rather than focussing on endless selective school choice expansion, vanity projects and short term incentives.