The launch of the Conservative Party manifesto last weekend rounded off the medley of big party manifestos for the 2019 general election. It included a number of announcements on education and skills so let’s start with what this latest manifesto had to say on such matters.
The headline message was confirmation of the pre-announced ‘levelling up’ of schools funding, a total of £7.1bn in cash terms by 2022/23. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) put it: ‘enough to reverse recent cuts but still leave per pupil spending no higher in 2022/23 than it was 13 years earlier.’
The Conservative’s other big announcement was the creation of a £3bn National Skills Fund over the lifetime of the next Parliament. There’s some uncertainty about how this fits with the National Retraining Scheme but the manifesto promised ‘to consult widely on the overall design.’ Elsewhere, the Conservatives promise to introduce an Arts Premium in secondary school, ‘improve the working’ of the apprenticeship levy, and ‘consider’ Augar. There were omissions; nothing on T levels as Tom Richmond in the TES pointed out, little on accountability, workloads, higher level tech education and so on, leaving arguably a fairly modest set of proposals.
All three main party manifestos are now however out, so what conclusions do we draw?
First, that as the National Education Union (NEU) reminded us in a poll of parents this week, education remains high in the list of voter concerns as the manifestos reflect. School funding was credited with swinging many votes in the 2017 election, hence perhaps the emphasis on it this time round. There’s been a bit of a shift this time to perhaps wider issues such as mental health support and alternative provision but ultimately education in the broadest sense matters. Second, sadly many of the more intractable problems in education, such as how best to help the ‘forgotten 30%’ who fail to secure baseline qualifications, remain. The big challenge as the National Institute of Economic and Social Research reminds us in its summary, is ‘what can be done to make the education system more effective and fairer?’ It’s a question that manifestos are still some way from answering. And third, as Stephen Exley in the TES highlighted: there may be plenty of manifesto proposals but where’s the vision?
In other news this week, National Numeracy reported on continuing concerns about basic adult numeracy, twenty years on from the landmark Moser report, the Conservatives announced plans to beef up inspections, UCAS issued its first report on this year’s admissions cycle and the CBI and Pearson are launching their latest Employer Skills Survey. Some gritty stuff all round.