The Open Manifesto on Education
Education is the single most important public service. It lies at the core of our democracy, which fails to the extent that education fails. Education and citizenship are part of the same contract; education is about giving citizens the skills, the knowledge and the confidence to participate fully in the community – socially, culturally, economically and politically.
Education is not simply about producing a large population of skilled wage-slaves to satisfy the needs of corporate employers, and we will avoid rhetoric that portrays education in that light. Nevertheless, the skills needed in the modern workplace are the same skills needed to participate in society: articulate communication, critical evaluation and creativity.
Evidence in education policy
There is substantial evidence showing that investment in nursery and early-years education provides the best economic return, yet a disproportionate amount of education funding goes to universities. Universities and those who work in them are, by their nature, disproportionately articulate lobbyists, compared to the early years sector. This is why evidence, rather than consultation, should be the basis for education policy.
Allocating Resources to Education
Good schools are both well-resourced and well-managed; schools educating children from economically- and socially- deprived backgrounds need more resources. We will develop and publish a metric for determining the relative level of funding for each school, taking into account the social conditions of its intake, and will aim to redistribute resources so that the schools with the most challenging intake are the best resourced. This will almost certainly involve a transfer of resources from well-resourced schools serving affluent areas to schools that are currently under-resourced.
The Role of Local Authorities
We will carry out a study of the costs and benefits of local authority management of schools. We believe that nursery and primary schools, in particular, should be run with strong support from local authorities, but that secondary schools might work better with greater independence.
There should be a three-way partnership, between local authorities – providing local democratic accountability and management of shared resources including supply teachers – , central government – providing funding and the framework for the national curriculum, and school governing bodies, providing distinctive leadership and vision for each school.
Early Years Education
We will transfer educational resources from Higher Education to Early Years education, and make nursery – early-years education free as of right to all sectors of the population. We will encourage registered child-minders to become early years teaching assistants.
We will revisit primary schools’ admission policies to ensure that they are effectively non-discriminatory so that primary schools serve as the common focus of diverse communities.
Choice in Secondary Education
We are highly suspicious of the empty rhetoric of choice: until every parent has the choice of just one good local school for their child, providing further choice is a luxury we can ill afford.
We will require all state schools to use open-book accounting, publishing their accounts on-line in real time.
We believe that mathematics is a vital skill for participation in modern society. It is very poorly taught, particularly at the primary level, as many primary teachers themselves struggle with its fundamental nature as a symbolic, abstract language. It is not just about numeracy, but about relating numbers to both abstract and concrete concepts. We will invest in research into the best methods of teaching mathematics, and it is our intention that no child should leave school without being confident to interpret critically numerical, financial and statistical information.
Good higher education is essential to the economy. We need the doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists turned out by universities. But there is much that is mediocre in British HE, following the pursuit of simple participation targets. We believe that only 100% participation in HE is an acceptable target, but it is not achievable with the present structure with courses taught from age 18. Evidence suggests that few 18-year olds have the maturity or dedication needed to make the best of the best teaching available at our universities.
We will reform the structure and duration of higher education, so that the norm becomes part- time study by mature students paying their own fees. We will require universities to make “life experience” – including a period of paid employment and time living away from home – part of the admission requirements for all undergraduate courses, and we will require them to offer all courses in predominantly modular, part-time form so that students can work while studying.
This dramatic reform will take some time to implement. To begin with, we will review the funding of university courses so that modular, part-time courses for mature students receive preferential funding, while we withdraw subsidies from conventional full-time residential undergraduate degrees delivered at 18-21.
Young People’s Life Experience
- One of the most important, if undocumented, benefits of a university education is the soft introduction to living away from home it provides to the teenage children of middle-class parents. It is also a very expensive way of providing this introduction, for which the social need extends to all income groups, not just those whose children go to university. We will, therefore, introduce a universal programme of life experience working away from home. Young people from the age of 17 will be supported in making a move to a location away from home to do unskilled or volunteer work.
All schools should be the “common focus of a diverse community”; but there is a clear risk that faith schools are established to provide separate education for members of their faith. We will further regulate faith schools to eliminate educational apartheid. That said, the best faith schools do aspire to be that common focus, and we will encourage them to continue to do so.
As part of our principles outlawing religious discrimination, we will make it unlawful for any school to discriminate in its admission or employment policies on the grounds of faith.
Faith indoctrination in the curriculum will be outlawed. Comparative, non-sectarian religious education, including an exposition of prevailing non-theistic views such as atheism and humanism will be a small but mandatory part of the general curriculum necessary to explain how different faiths fit in to a diverse society. Everything else is for Sunday School.
Any contribution by faith foundations to a school’s endowment or income will be taken into consideration when calculating its resources, so no faith school will be any better resourced than its secular neighbours.
Independent schools perpetuate snobbery and class division, but until all state schools deliver free education equal to the best provided in the independent sector we probably have to tolerate their existence. We will ensure that independent schools pay their fair share of taxes and do not discriminate in their admission policies, and we will aim that by 2025 it should be unlawful to charge fees for educating children under 18.
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