There are positives – but the Conservatives’ manifesto misfires on crucial issues

This was a chance to come out fighting, but the Conservatives’ policies fail to acknowledge the scale of need and lack real ambition

This was a chance to come out fighting, but the Conservatives’ policies fail to acknowledge the scale of need and lack real ambition

14 Jun 2024, 5:00

You’d have thought they’d come out fighting. Education, after all, is the record the Conservatives are proud to defend this election. Indeed, the opening sentence of the education chapter in the manifesto rightly proclaims, “English children are now the best readers in the Western world”.

And yet, just about every pledge after that seeks to put back into the system what policy decisions of the past 14 years have taken out: teachers, funding, school buildings, sports provision, a level playing field for academic and vocational qualifications at 16, 100,000 more apprenticeships and “valuable life skills” (only at 18, though) delivered through National Service.

Don’t get me wrong, “it is massive”, as Rob Halfon put it yesterday at our event to mark the Times Education Commission. Two years on, to hear a Prime Minister talking about skills – the Advanced British Standard (ABS), reaffirmed in the manifesto – has all the right ambitions to end the “damaging divide between vocational and academic education” at 16.

It’s also a rare gem of a policy in that it has cross-party support. Our recent polling with Public First found that 78 per cent of 2,000 adults would support a proposal to reform the education system in line with the ABS, while just 10 per cent oppose.

In fact, a massive 61 per cent said they thought the ABS would represent an improvement on the current system of 16-18 education. That support was steadfast regardless of voting intention.

It needs some fine-tuning: a much more serious teacher recruitment drive, collaboration with colleges and sixth forms and, crucially, the possibility for students to ‘mix and match’ academic and vocational subjects. The latter in particular is what drives public support for the policy.

It’s just a shame the party has come round to the idea of a truly broad and balanced curriculum so late in the day.

Despite much more reliable public support for the ABS, it is the new, multi-billion-pound National Service announcement (a compulsory programme of civic or military duties for 18-year-olds, backed by a Royal Commission) that takes centre stage in the manifesto.

The pledges are a far cry from tackling our pressing issues

Young people need meaningful, joyful opportunities to develop their skills for life, but why wait until 18? Why not invest this considerable funding into our schools and colleges? Aren’t they best-placed to deliver an enriched curriculum and co-curricular offer, in collaboration with businesses and the third sector, that compliments young people’s academic and/or technical study?

All in all, the manifesto pledges are a far cry from the ambition to tackle the pressing issues on the ground we heard in the room at Edge’s event yesterday.

Teach First’s Russell Hobby highlighted the immense workload burden driving teachers out of the profession, and Ark CEO Lucy Heller suggested the place to start to ease some of this pressure is accountability and assessment reform. Meanwhile, the manifesto sharply retorts: “We will back Ofsted”.

ASCL President and former headteacher, Evelyn Forde warned schools and colleges “have become the fourth emergency service”. Former children’s commissioner and Centre for Young Lives founder, Anne Longfield CBE suggested we need to “bring services together in common purpose” to help them identify children who need extra support in the early years.

Far too often, we leave it to our overstretched and under-resourced FE colleges to pick up the pieces, much too late in a young person’s life.

The manifesto confirms the extension of STEM teacher bonuses to those working in FE (and the ABS will help equalise teaching hours in schools and colleges). However, it does little to get to some of the knottier issues, like the GCSE resits policy and the adult skills budget.

As journalist and Times Education Commission chair, Rachel Sylvester concluded yesterday, “there is no policy that can change the country like education”. It underscores the talent pipelines for key sectors like health, housing, energy, digital and technology.

When the election was called, our CEO, Alice Barnard said: “What we say and do on education signals a much wider vision for the future of the UK.”

This manifesto was an opportunity for the Conservatives to address the critical needs of our young people, the education profession and the labour market. Evidently, they didn’t read the room.

Latest education roles from

Lecturer A Supported Internship Tutor

Lecturer A Supported Internship Tutor

Bolton College

Sessional Lecturer / Teacher / Assessor

Sessional Lecturer / Teacher / Assessor

Merton College

Stained Glass Variable Hours Tutor

Stained Glass Variable Hours Tutor

Richmond and Hillcroft Adult & Community College

Secondary Higher Level Teaching Assistant

Secondary Higher Level Teaching Assistant

Ark John Keats Academy

Learning Support Assistant – Enhance

Learning Support Assistant – Enhance

MidKent College

Principal & Chief Executive Officer

Principal & Chief Executive Officer

Stoke on Trent College

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

#GE2024: Listen now as Let’s Go Further outlines the FE and skills priorities facing our new government

The Skills and Education Group podcast, Let’s Go Further, aims to challenge the way we all think about skills...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, colleges and schools can be confident that learners...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Why we’re backing our UK skills ‘Olympians’ (and why you should too)

This August, teams from over 200 nations will gather to compete in the sticky heat of the Paris summer...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Is your organisation prepared for a major incident?

We live in an unpredictable world where an unforeseen incident or environmental event could disrupt a Further Education (FE)...

Advertorial

More from this theme

Election 2024

Damian Hinds named shadow education secretary

Former schools minister and education secretary will shadow Bridget Phillipson's new DfE team

Freddie Whittaker
Election 2024, Politics

No ‘quick and easy solutions’ to ‘major’ challenges, Phillipson warns education sector

Labour's 6,500 new teachers pledge will apply to colleges, according to a letter from the new education secretary

Freddie Whittaker
Election 2024, Politics

Former home sec Jacqui Smith expected to become skills and FE minister

Former Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith will return to government

FE Week Reporter
Election 2024

‘The proudest day of my life’: Phillipson’s full speech to DfE staff

Education secretary says she has 'greatest job in government', but warns of 'scale of the challenge ahead'

FE Week Reporter

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *