Policy Eye - Highlights of week ending Friday 12 May 2017

Totting up the numbers. A week of spending plans, manifestos and tests.

Some big casino numbers have been flying around this week on education spending where at least two of the political Parties have been pledging to spend more. It has also, lest we forget, been SATs week and Mental Health Awareness Week, each important in other ways.

But education spending, a topic which Manifesto leaks apart has been high profile for a couple of days on the election trail with Labour and the Lib-Dems each setting out their plans, has seized much of the attention. The plans raise three questions: where’s the money coming from; what’s it going to be spent on; and is it good news?

The overall totals are mouth-watering: an initial £4.8bn promised by Labour for schools, rising to £8.4bn by the end of the next Parliament for the Party’s promised all-through National Education Service. And for the Lib-Dems, £6.9bn for schools and colleges over the next Parliament. So where’s this money coming from? Most of it from changes to corporation tax, a tax which generated just under £50bn last year, which Labour would hike up and for which the Lib-Dems would reverse planned reductions, a raid that as the BBC Economics editor pointed out, is not without implications elsewhere.

Second, what’s it going to be spent on? In essence both Parties are looking to cash in on areas where the government has appeared weak, so school funding reforms, teacher recruitment, 16-19 provision, student grants and lifelong learning all feature. The Lib-Dems have been the most precise promising the largest chunk (£1.26bn) to go on ensuring no school loses out from the new funding formula; their full list is here.

As for Labour, the money would primarily go on reversing cuts to school budgets and restoring higher spending levels (£4.5bn) along with free meals in primary and reduced class sizes, protecting schools squeezed under the new funding formula (£335m pa,) restoring the maintenance allowance for 16-19 year olds (£582m pa,) supporting adult learning (£1.5bn) restoring maintenance grants (£1.7bn) and scrapping tuition fees (£1.4bn pa.) The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) has a helpful summary here.

So, is it good news? Clearly it’s welcome news for many people either involved in or going through education and responds to a number of current concerns; schools and 16-19 providers have particularly been feeling the pinch. Yet much depends on the small print and how the money is distributed and used; evidence about the impact of smaller classes, free school meals and 16-19 education maintenance allowances, for instance, remains mixed and would scrapping tuition fees mean universities end up with more or less money? Equally would skinning the corporation tax cat be damaging to UK jobs and the economy in the long run as the IfS suggest. There are no easy answers.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘SATs: Reading test ‘kinder’ than last year.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Preventing school cuts would put penny on income tax, say IfS.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Election: 2017. Labour and Lib-Dems pledge school cash.’ (Wednesday)
  • ’Labour corporation tax could help schools but dent economy, says IfS.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Wilshaw blames charlatan comp heads for return of grammar schools.’ (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

General Policy

  • Education funding plans (1.) Labour announced plans to use a rise in corporation tax to fund huge increases in education including reversing school cuts and proposing scrapping university tuition fees
  • Education funding plans (2.) The Lib – Dems have also promised to invest in schools and colleges, with full details due to be fully spelt out in their forthcoming Manifesto but likely to include protection of per-pupil funding including that for 16-19 yr olds along with funding for teacher professional development
  • Good Work/Bad Work. Matthew Taylor who has been heading a review of the changing nature of work and will present a report on the matter to the incoming government next month, highlighted survey results showing that many people are unhappy with their work arrangements, in his annual RSA lecture
  • A manifesto for manufacturing. EEF, the manufacturers’ organization, published its election manifesto with an emphasis among other things on smooth transition arrangements post Brexit, employer work permits as part of a new immigration system and greater flexibility over the apprenticeship levy.


  • More GE 2017 priorities. The Russell Group listed its priorities for the forthcoming general election, five in all, with an emphasis on retaining a strong global position and ease of movement of staff and students post Brexit
  • And MillionPlus. The MillionPlus Association of Modern Universities published its election priorities calling for many of the same things but also with particular calls on funding, Industrial Strategy, the restoration of maintenance grants and taking students out of migration targets
  • Student safeguarding. The government and related agencies issued further clarification and advice about the Channel support programme, which is part of the Prevent strategy and aims to help those at risk of being drawn into terrorist activity.


  • AoC manifesto. The Association of Colleges launched its election manifesto with six core recommendations around skill development, funding, apprenticeships and system structures calling among other things for better funding and support for 16-18 provision
  • SOS. The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association issued its election manifesto wish list highlighting funding issues with four priorities including a per student ‘SOS’ funding uplift and a review of sixth form funding
  • Brexit and beyond. The Learning and Work Institute along with a number of other organizations launched a new campaign to help ensure that replacement funding for the current £2.4bn European Social Fund (ESF,) used to fund a lot of local learning and community activities, was in place once we’d left the EU
  • Collab nab. The Collab Group of colleges announced a new managed service contract which will see its members deliver apprenticeship programmes for Kier, the leading construction and services group
  • OLTA. AoC and Emfec, managing partners of the Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment (OLTA) scheme set up to generate excellence in post-16 provision, published the details of the 15 projects currently being funded.


  • Mental health. The Prime Minister confirmed that plans for more training and support for mental health in schools are expected to be included in the Party’s Election Manifesto
  • More on mental health. The HuffPost asked leading mental health organisations and individual experts what should be done to improve children’s mental health and ended up with 13 recommendations including employing a trained counsellor in every school and ensuring greater funding and support generally
  • Fronted adverbials. Education commentator Warwick Mansell reported on the continuing debate about the nature of the primary school curriculum and in particular the importance or otherwise of children learning and being tested on so-called traditional grammar idioms
  • Won’t come cheap. The Institute for Fiscal Studies argued in an article for Schools Week that while funding reforms may be necessary, protecting schools from real-terms cuts wouldn’t come cheap and could be something all political Parties may have to face up to
  • School cuts. The TES reported on an exercise, said to have been conducted by the DfE looking at ways in which schools could make savings, and suggesting that by adopting efficiencies across 12 areas, schools could hit the £3bn efficiencies proposed
  • Breakfast or lunch? The Institute for Fiscal Studies examined the issue of free school meals which Labour has said it wants to extend to all primary school children and concluded that it would be better to invest in proper breakfasts than extend free school lunches to all
  • Testing the Water. The ‘think and action’ tank LKMco published the initial report coming out of its investigation into the future of assessment, commissioned by Pearson, and highlighting not just the important role assessment plays in teaching and learning but also some of the concerns arising out of its use for performance measurement
  • Comprehensive Future. The group that campaigns for comprehensive education launched a crowd funding scheme to help fight prospective Conservative plans on selective education.

Tweets(s) of the week

  • “Looking for interesting ideas in education policy. Forget the politicians-look to the professionals” -@schooltruth
  • “MCC to KCC. What can I say? Such an interesting and challenging time for FE and I want in!” - @MaryCurnockCook (refers to the appointment of Mary Curnock Cook, MCC, as chair of governors at Kensington and Chelsea College, KCC)
  • “My six year old granddaughter knew what alliteration was but had never heard of assonance. Shocking.” - @JulietJeater
  • “Sometimes the key to happiness is to stand up to your brain and tell it to sod off” – @_NatashaDevon
  • “It’s the little things that wind people up, like getting the name of a dept wrong in an email” - @GdnHigherEd.

Other stories of the week

  • Fronted adverbial. This week it has been SATs week and one of the grammatical forms that KS2 pupils will be expected to know about is the so-called fronted adverbial. It has become, as Warwick Mansell explains in his Guardian article listed here, symptomatic of the debate about grammar teaching and how far it now restricts or enhances young people’s learning. So what is a fronted adverbial? Apparently, it is a word or phrase that comes at the start of a sentence to describe an action that follows. It’s normally followed by a comma. Michael Rosen, a critic of the need to learn this structure, gives this example: ‘On the hour, the bell rings”.
  • The science behind the supermarket queue. Two lecturers at Sussex University have been examining the theories and science behind queueing and how for instance to select the fastest queue in a supermarket. There appear to be lots of theories about how best to calculate the quickest queue, such as measuring the time between customers when you join a queue, but ultimately it seems, it all comes down to pot luck.

Quote(s) of the week

  • “Where are the imaginative solutions to the ever more fragmented local oversight of schools, or brave thinking about a curriculum or qualifications to address the skills shortage in a post-Brexit world?” – education commentator Fiona Millar bemoans the dearth of innovative thinking on education in the current election campaign
  • “It doesn’t stop at age 16 or 20” - Labour education secretary Angela Rayner on the importance of lifelong learning
  • “We spend a lot of time doing it. It’s how we support ourselves and our families” – Matthew Taylor spells out the importance of getting work right as part of his current review for the government on the changing nature of work
  • “He is so highly paid he could never be value for money” – one of the comments about Vice-Chancellors in the Guardian HE Network survey
  • “A promise to protect schools from cuts will not come cheap” – the Institute for Fiscal Studies tots up the costs for protecting school funding
  • “After decades in which the blob has piled all its eggs into the comprehensive basket – while Britain slips relentlessly down the international exam league tables - the time to bring back grammars has surely come” – The Daily Mail gets excited about the prospect of more grammar schools
  • “Schools should be teaching everyone about how financial markets operate” – Big Issue founder Lord Bird believes schools should help kids wise-up
  • “Much better than last year …I think!?” - a teacher reflects in the TES on this year’s SATs reading test which caused so much angst last year
  • “They just found it really tricky” – another teacher reacts in the TES, this time on the final SATs maths test
  • “I get to decide when I take the bins out” – the Prime Minister’s husband on how the chores are divvied up at home.

Number(s) of the week

  • 26%. How much Labour would raise corporation tax to by 2021 (it’s currently at 19%) to generate funds for investing in education
  • £6.9bn. How much the Lib-Dems are planning to invest in education and skills over the next Parliament
  • £950m a year. How much it would cost to extend free school meals to all primary school children according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies
  • 45. How many Parliamentary Committee reports were rushed out in the ‘window’ between the election being announced and Parliament being dissolved, according to data from the Institute for Government
  • 0.5%. How much wages are set to fall by the end of next year according to a report from the TUC
  • 73%. How many people think that we should do more to improve the quality of jobs according to a survey commissioned by the RSA for its ‘Good Work’ project
  • 75%. The number of people who think an understanding of economics should be part of the school curriculum according to a survey by YouGov
  • £200. How much funding uplift per student the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association is calling for in its general election manifesto
  • £3.7bn. How much more money would be needed to protect schools from real-terms cuts according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies
  • £205. The average exam reward being offered by parents to their children this year.

What to look out for next week

  • Launch of main Party Manifestos (Monday, Tuesday)
  • Learning at Work Week. (All Week)