We need a plan to transform education
It’s critical that we equip our children for the future, give them a love of learning and teach them to love our planet. The Liberal Democrats want to build a brighter future for every child, to give them the best start in life.
This is meant to be a Brexit election, but I want it to be a climate emergency election. We need to equip our children with the skills and the understanding to adapt to and mitigate the very worst impacts of a heating planet, as well as a rapidly changing economy.
The Conservative government has slashed spending and created an education system which sets school against school and teacher against teacher, and the number of hours learning design and technology skills has nearly halved since the start of this decade.
Our schools and colleges should be world-class, helping every child, no matter their attainment or background, to make the most of the challenges ahead.
Instead, our schools are trailing behind. Teaching assistants are being sacked. Cash-strapped councils are struggling to support children with complex needs. Schools aren’t keeping their doors open for a full five-day week. In the 21st century, in one of the richest countries on the planet, we’re giving our children a part-time education.
It’s clear that the Conservatives are failing our children. They have cut school and college budgets to the bone, and seem more concerned about whether children pass tests or not.
The stakes of Ofsted inspections and testing – especially at primary school – have been raised so high that pupils and teachers are anxious and stressed about even going to school. Creative subjects are being squeezed out of the classroom. The very creativity that we need for our economy and society is being juiced out of the education system by a Conservative education policy that looks for exam results to grab good headlines.
That’s why the Liberal Democrats have a different, positive vision for education in this country, where the system is inclusive by design.
We demand better for our children’s futures. We will spend £10bn more on schools, and recruit 20,000 new teachers, by the 2024/25 academic year, reversing the real-terms cuts made to our schools since 2015.
We will invest in our most disadvantaged children, with extra funding for children with the most complex needs. Parents should not have to be kept waiting for their child’s special educational needs and disabilities to be identified and supported, so we need to make sure schools have the money and the capacity to cope.
Critically, we will invest £1bn in Further Education to save our colleges, and extend the pupil premium to disadvantaged students aged 16-19. Our sixth-form colleges need to be put on a par with sixth forms in schools, which is we we must extend the VAT exemption and Teacher Pay Grant to these institutions.
But it’s about more than the money. My vision for education is one where children are supported to learn, where they are given a love of learning. Take climate change. When I was a physics teacher, I weaved climate change and the environment into my classes – it’s not just about creating engaging content, but integrating it into the curriculum.
We need to see more of the fantastic work that school teachers up and down the country are doing every day across the curriculum on the climate crisis. We need to be equipping the engineers and scientists of tomorrow today. In places like Orkney, Pembrokeshire, Felixstowe and Cumbria the need for people who can maintain offshore wind and tidal energy turbines, as well as design and built the sites, is acute. If we get education right in this country, we can build a better future.
But that’s not what the Conservatives’ vision looks like. It’s time to end their ‘teaching to the test’ mentality and instead support children to learn. Parents should get the full picture of how their school is doing, because primary schools can’t be measured by just one week of tests.
A Liberal Democrat government would scrap SATs and reform league tables, instead giving parents more information about their school’s performance and ethos, quality-checked by other school leaders.
We will replace Ofsted with a new schools watchdog that actually supports schools to succeed.
The reliability of Ofsted judgements is increasingly being questioned. Under the current Government plans Ofsted inspectors will perform ‘deep dives’ into how certain subjects are taught at each school. However, Ofsted does not employ curriculum specialists to carry out these reviews.
The pressure of a poor Ofsted inspection or a bad showing in school league tables weighs upon teachers and forces them not to act in the interests of their child.
For example, one in ten secondary school pupils is removed from school rolls without explanation during their time at secondary school. Of these, two in five never return to school again.
Most of these will be pupils who move to a private school, alternative provision or are home- educated. However, there is widespread concern that many of these pupils have been ‘off- rolled’. This is when some schools deliberately offload challenging pupils to other providers (or in some cases, leave pupils without any education provision) in order to boost their GCSE results. These pupils are disproportionately likely to have SEND and be in receipt of free school meals. The Government wants us to forget about these children – to put them on the scrapheap. We must stop this now.
Boris Johnson has said that the Conservatives will increase school funding and Labour have followed suit.
The Government’s plan merely raises spending on education to the same level that is was in 2015 – by 2022. Labour’s plans for a National Education Service are more about who runs education than about doing things differently for pupils – tinkering with the system at a time of crisis.
I want Britain to do more, much much more than run hard to stand still. Our children and students, our teachers and college lecturers, and our future deserve better.
Past generations have bequeathed us with a heating planet and degraded natural world. The least we can do is to give them the skills and the resources to fix it.
On this and on our vision for education overall, we can do much better, and I’m proud that the Liberal Democrats have the plan in place to make that a reality.
Layla Moran has been a Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon from 2017-9. She is also the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for education.
With the UK now set for a General Election on December 12, Bright Green is publishing a series of articles from progressive party spokespeople on how their policies would transform the country. This article is part of that series – all articles can be found here.