Education is about achieving the best, about exploring possibilities and seeking new challenges, about fulfilling people’s promise for the good of themselves and the whole of society. The next generation will face a complex, technologically advanced and ever-changing world. England’s education system – from nurseries and schools, to universities and colleges – should be world-class, helping every child to make the most of the opportunities ahead, no matter their ability or background. It must nurture not only academic excellence but also creativity, adaptability, and teamwork.
Instead, nurseries are struggling, and the attainment gap between rich and poor is widening. Teaching assistants are being laid off. Cash-strapped councils are struggling to support children with complex needs. Too many schools are unable to keep their doors open for a full five-day week.
The Conservatives are failing our children. They have cut school and college budgets to the bone. They focus too heavily on test results at the expense of giving children a good all-round education. The closest they have to a big idea is the backward-looking and divisive plan to create more grammar schools, despite the evidence that shows that they harm social mobility. Labour want to waste time and money on a massive top-down reorganisation which will do nothing to improve standards.
The high-stakes culture of Ofsted inspections and testing – especially in primary schools – has led to pupils and teachers being anxious and stressed about going to school. Creative subjects are being squeezed out of the classroom.
Liberal Democrats will build a brighter future for every one of our children. We have a plan to boost quality at every stage of education.
We will start with a bold offer of free childcare from the of age nine months (the end of paid parental leave), transforming the opportunities for early years education and helping parents who want to combine caring and working.
We will reverse school cuts with an immediate emergency cash injection so that pupils have the resources they need to learn, and let teachers get on with the job of raising standards rather than having to worry about budgeting for the basics.
Parents should get the full picture of how their school is doing. Primary schools cannot be properly measured by just one week of tests. There must be robust inspections that measure social and emotional development alongside attainment. They should support schools to succeed, instead of punishing them for failure.
Parents should not have to be kept waiting for their child’s needs to be identified and supported. Liberal Democrats will put wellbeing at the heart of every school, and better fund special needs education.
Further Education colleges have a vital role in giving opportunities to young people who want to pursue vocational study, and Liberal Democrats will end the neglect they have suffered for too long. The UK has some outstanding universities and research institutions and we need to build on their success.
In the brighter Liberal Democrat future, children will come home from school happier, healthier and with all the skills they need to succeed in life. Free childcare will allow parents to choose the balance of work and childcare that suits them, and help close attainment gaps in education and gender gaps in pay. Revitalised vocational and Higher Education will equip individuals and the economy to thrive.
Our top priorities in the next parliament will be:
- Providing free, high-quality childcare for children of working parents from nine months.
- Reversing cuts to school funding, employing an extra 20,000 schoolteachers, and clearing the backlog of repairs to school and college buildings.
- Ending teaching to the test by scrapping mandatory SATs, and replacing existing government performance tables (‘league tables’) of schools with a broader set of indicators.