8 Oct 2014
What have the recent round of party conferences yielded in the way of tasters of policy in advance of next year's general elections?
Lib Dems As usual on the eve of conferences, the press released a poll showing just how badly the party was doing. For the Lib Dems there was a big reduction in student support - inversely proprtional to its cause: tuition fees.
But what did the conference have to say about education policy? As for other parties (below) World Class was the defining phrase, though as far as teachers are concerned the Lib Dems are less ambitious / more realistic than Labour, demanding simply a qualified teacher in every classroom. State school teachers may be horrified to hear that this isn't already the case. Also a slimmed down core curriculum in every state school, "protected funding" at all levels and yet more support for Early Years provision.
Lib Dems also want some more education quangos, perhaps to top up the numbers which were so dramatically cut when they came to power in the coalition: a Royal College of Teachers (an idea that's been kicking around for at least two years) and an Educational Standards Authority - a sort of Ofqual but for the rest of the curriculum.
Whether you like the Lib Dems vision for education or not, it's at least clear and can be found on their (very admirable) website.
Conservatives In these pages we have bemoaned the silence of the new education secretary (she's called Nicky Morgan, by the way) - surely the Conservative party conference would be the place where we might hear something of interest on schools...
Claims made by Ms Morgan during her party conference speech included:
"Standards - back.
Discipline - restored.
Expectations - high."
Standards are back to what, exactly? We no longer even have a means of comparing them. GCSE and A-level results both fell nationally last year. International comparisons also show a decline.
Discipline: Ofsted said only last week: "poor behaviour costing pupils up to an hour of learning a day".
Expectations: of what? By whom?
Nicky Morgan hopes to reduce teacher workload, apparently – yet the biggest applause during her speech was for Michael Gove’s policies, which surely do just the opposite. She wants "to ensure that teachers spend more time in the classroom teaching". Does that sound like a reduction in workload to you? Surely less time in the classroom is the only way to do that.
But maybe this is the big new-education-secretary announcement we've all been waiting for...? She went on to say:
"I wish I could announce some great initiative today that would solve this problem at a stroke. I can’t do that."
Another choice phrase in her speech included: "L in Labour stands for lower standards and less choice". Surely it stands for Labour. It would need to be LSALC...
"More than 100,000 six-year-olds able to read because of the emphasis on phonics." If she were to look back in history, she may find that a great many six year olds could read before phonics.
"Every young person reaching a good standard in English and Maths" - just plain nonsense - Google it.
Equal rights campaigners might take this priority from Ms Morgan (who voted against same sex marriage) with a pinch of salt: "tackling one of the most pernicious kinds of victimisation – homophobic bullying".
She also, like Theresa May and UKIP, said that schools should promote British values.
And the rest was flannel. Still, it's nice to hear from Morgan at last, even if it was to claim that "None of this has been easy. The road ahead will be troubled too". (What's a troubled road?)
Elsewhere this week, Cameron said (in a Newsnight interview) that schools should teach mainly in imperial measurements - he would ‘still go for pounds and ounces’ over the metric system.
Labour didn't have much to say at all, but they want "a world class teacher in every classroom". Are you one? If not: what does Labour need to do to make you one? Or replace you with one?
Other than these bon mots, Tristram Hunt had very little to say (828 words) about Labour's new policies for education, though he did remind us of some of the previous ones. Notably, he didn't say that these would be re-introduced: there's no way the country could afford them. Nor did he mention Free Schools: Labour don't seem able to make up their minds about what to do with these.
Education, education, education it ain't.
UKIP noticed that there is a shortage of places in schools and wants a "grammar school in every town" - that would take the number from 164 to 936 and would cost around £1.5 billion... A tad ambitious, Nigel? However, the intention here is to increase social mobility - laudable at least.
Post script: Sex Education for children under 11 either is UKIP policy (Farage) or isn't (UKIP education spokesman).
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