We look here at the key Liberal Democrat pledges for schools and the early years following publication of their manifesto yesterday.
Reverse funding cuts
The Liberal Democrats would reverse cuts to school funding, with an emergency cash injection, to restore funding per pupil to 2015 levels. They have already announced an emergency cash injection of £2.2bn and an extra £10bn a year.
Free childcare from nine months
Unsurprisingly, we are promised free childcare for every child aged two to four and children aged between nine and 24 months where their parents or guardians are in work: 35 hours a week, 48 weeks a year.
They will invest £1bn a year in Children's Centres. Labour has confirmed that it too will invest heavily in Children's Centres, so there is some commonality here.
Free school meals for all
Free school meals will also be extended to all children in primary education and to all secondary school children whose families receive Universal Credit.
Early Years Premium and Staffing
A Liberal Democrat government would triple the Early Years Pupil Premium (to £1,000) to give extra help to disadvantaged children, and would require all Early Years settings to have a training programme for staff. Most staff would have a relevant Early Years qualification or be working towards one and there will be one person qualified to graduate level.
Smaller class sizes
The Liberal Democrats will introduce smaller class sizes, though the manifesto doesn't set a timeframe.
20,000 extra teachers
They will fund an extra 20,000 teachers, though the manifesto doesn't set a timescale for the recruitment drive.
Starting salary increase
The starting salary for teachers will increase to £30,000, matching the Conservative's pledge, with pay for all teachers increasing by at least 3% per year.
Teachers will be entitled to professional development, rising to 50 hours per year by 2025, with extra training for those who teach subjects where they do not have a post A-level qualification.
Mental health support
All teaching staff will also be trained to identify mental health issues and schools will be required to ensure they have a specific individual responsible for mental health in schools, similar to the current requirement for teacher responsible for looked after children.
'Curriculum for life'
The manifesto promises a 'curriculum for life' in all schools and academies to include PSHE, financial literacy, environmental awareness, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, mental health education, citizenship and age-appropriate relationships and sex education.
Independent curriculum body
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats would establish an independent body of education experts to oversee and de-politicise any future curriculum changes, analogous to the division of responsibility between HM Treasury and the Bank of England when it comes to interest rate changes.
Arts and creative subjects
They would also protect arts and creative subjects in the curriculum and abolish the EBacc as a performance measure.
Teacher assessment to replace SATs
As expected, the Liberal Democrats would replace SATs with a formal, moderated teacher assessment and 'lighter-touch testing', though no further detail is given. Labour has already said it will abolish SATs and reception baseline assessments.
'Indicators' to replace 'league tables'
Performance tables would be replaced by 'a broader set of indicators' including information about pupils' and teachers' wellbeing, as well as academic attainment. However, the manifesto omits any further detail on these indicators.
New HMI Inspector to replace Ofsted
As expected, the manifesto pledges that Ofsted will be replaced by a new HM Inspector of Schools with inspections every three years to include the social and emotional development of children, and the wellbeing of staff and pupils. Independent schools would be subject to the same inspection regime. Schools would also be under a statutory duty to promote the wellbeing of their pupils as part of the inspection framework.
MATs would also be subject to external inspection, replacing the current Ofsted external review.
A Liberal Democrat government would 'end the crisis' in SEND funding by allocating additional cash to local authorities to halve the amount that schools pay towards the cost of an EHCP. They have previously said they would also create a new SEND strategy "so that schools, councils, healthcare providers and social services work together in the best interests of the child", though the manifesto is silent on the point.
Vocational education will include skills for entrepreneurship and self-employment.
Careers advice and links with employers in schools and colleges will also be improved.
Education and training
Meanwhile, children from poorer families will be helped to remain in education and training beyond the age of 16 by introducing a 'Young People's Premium', based on the same eligibility criteria as the Pupil Premium with a portion paid directly to the young person.
Local authorities as Strategic Education Authorities
Local authorities will be Strategic Education Authorities, with responsibility for places planning, exclusions, administering admissions including in-year admissions and SEND functions. We need to see further detail here as local authorities already have responsibility for these areas. For example, they co-ordinate admissions but are not the admissions authority for every school.
New community schools
They will also allow local authorities to open new community schools, thereby removing the long held presumption that every new school will be a free school, though the manifesto doesn't abolish the free schools programme.
That said, capital funding for new school spaces will be allocated to local authorities, which is at odds with how the free schools programme currently works.
The manifesto also commits to clearing the backlog of repairs to school buildings but doesn't say how much will be invested or whether the funds are included in the extra £10bn a year.
The manifesto does confirm, though, that there will be no grammar school expansion.
Summary of the Liberal Democrats manifesto
The key Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges for schools are broadly welcome though further detail is required including on how these would be implemented and whether they are all costed within the emergency cash injection and extra £10bn a year promised for the schools sector. The pledges are focussed particularly on issues of social justice and the needs of the disadvantaged, with the drive to better regulate the current system without abolishing the academies programme as The Greens propose. It remains to be seen, though, whether and to what extent the Liberal Democrat pledges will have any bearing on the programme for the next government.
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