Unions comment on EPI analysis of election manifestos

The Association of College Leaders and the National Education Union have commented on the Education Policy Institute’s analysis of the election manifestos

This analysis of the manifesto promises of the five main parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and Brexit parties) assessed the likely impact of each of their education policies, considered how far these seem to be based on the best research available and judged whether the stated aspirations are likely to be met in practice.

The report found that high quality education is consistently a public priority in opinion polls. It also found that while there are some notable differences in the policies of each main party, all are promising a more generous funding settlement for education than has been the case since 2010. However, the parties are proposing to spend different amounts of money on different phases of education and targeted in different ways. There are some important differences in both the likely cost pressures arising from each party’s plans as well as the impact they will have on pupil outcomes and equity.

Commenting on the analysis, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The analysis by the Education Policy Institute shows that we need a national strategy on education which is underpinned by evidence and which sets out key priorities with realistic timescales and costings attached.

“The election manifestos are a pick and mix of policies delivered with the customary rhetoric of claim and counter-claim. There are good ideas, questionable ideas, and, in the case of the Conservative manifesto, something of a policy vacuum. What we lack is a benchmark against which policy plans can be assessed.

“Whoever wins the general election should commission the development of a national strategy based on evidence and co-constructed by government, education and industry.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The EPI assessment of party manifestos is useful and challenging.  It is right to highlight the inequitable nature of education in England and to scrutinise the ways in which the parties aim to address it. The judgment that ‘the measures set out in the Conservative manifesto are unlikely to have a significant impact on closing the disadvantage gap’ is shared by the Union.

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“The focus on early years education is particularly welcome. Like the EPI, the Union believes that the development of a larger educational workforce, with higher levels of training and qualification, is essential to a programme of Early Years reform.

“In other aspects the EPI’s analysis is over-cautious. The opposition parties – Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens – have understood the depth of the crisis in our schools.  Our systems of inspection and accountability have created significant problems of wellbeing for staff and pupils alike. As the OECD has noted, we have a school system that is not aligned with the needs of our century. Teaching to the test has lowered the quality of education.

“Researchers and educators have made a powerful and detailed case for alternatives to the current system, and the accountability proposals in the parties’ manifestos reflect a widespread consensus. In placing its emphasis on the possible negative effects of change, the EPI’s analysis overlooks this work and the answers it provides to fears that a new accountability system will let down disadvantaged students.

“This week the School Cuts coalition published the definitive assessment of manifesto commitments on education funding. This empowers every voter to see precisely what will happen to their local schools in a year’s time, depending on the outcome on 12 December. Consistently, it shows a stark choice between investment or more of the same: more staff cuts, increased class sizes, buildings in long-term disrepair. A generation of children has lost out due to the effects of austerity.

“There is a clear choice at this election. Parents, alongside teachers, head teachers and support staff, know that if you value education then you must vote for education.”

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