By Alex Delameilleure, Social Secretary of Warwick Labour Society
Education is a backburner issue for many voters – particularly in a general election that Theresa May has framed as yet another decision on the EU. Given the transformative power of education, this absolutely should not be the case. Labour’s pledges in the 2017 manifesto will deliver on their belief that education is a tool to empower us all. By creating a National Education Service to support citizens throughout their whole life, the Labour Party is committing to making a real positive difference. For too long, education has weathered massive cuts and changes to exams which have harmed those at the centre of the system. At this election, we have seen a manifesto that is not just about electoral politics, but about improving lives and making lasting change – education policy is at the very heart of this.
The Tory focus on exams as pupils leave each stage of schooling has had a profound effect on the children sitting them. Ten year-olds are coming to their parents crying over sitting SATs, and more A-level students than ever are seeking mental health support. The pressure on young people is historically high, and the Conservatives seem content to pat themselves on the back for their work for the ‘gains’ they have made in standards. The system we have ended up with is not fit for purpose. The Conservatives’ exam regime does not prepare children for anything but passing exams. It’s impractical and unjust to let education leave children behind like this. Labour’s plans will address this disconnect between what education should deliver and what it actually achieves. By scrapping baseline assessments, which Early Years researchers have argued will not adhere to best practice guidelines, Labour is moving in the right direction. Their aim – to move to continuous assessment – is a welcome change for students, parents and teachers alike.
Of course, we can’t discuss education without talking about funding. Chronic under-funding from the Conservatives has crippled schools. Painful choices are being made as you read; about which non-core subjects to stop teaching, what resources are needed the least and which teachers and teaching assistants can be sacked. Modern Britain should not be in such a dire state. A commitment to investment in schools is central to ensuring that our education system does not sink further below the water. A Labour government will not allow this. The £6.3bn increase in funding, pledged by Labour, is an affirmative step in correcting the catastrophic funding gap seen under the Tories. In stark contrast, Labour will deliver on the areas that need it most – staff recruitment and retention, making school buildings safe and redressing the uneven funding across the country. Make no mistake: this plan is fully costed and will be delivered.
On top of this, Labour will invest in apprenticeships, vocational training and higher education. They will create a National Education Service that will have lasting benefits to everyone in our society. It may not fit well into a soundbite, but education should be a priority for governments – and it will be under Labour.