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Labour manifesto ‘missing’ key school spending details – IfS

The Labour Party’s manifesto is “missing” key details on core school spending and offers “mostly small” resources for the many pressing “challenges” facing education, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said.

Labour’s manifesto, launched on Thursday, contained no new policies for schools on top of the raft already announced by the party.

Here’s the key takeaways school leaders need to know…

School budget uncertainty

Farquharson

Labour had no commitments on school funding.

The IFS earlier this week criticised the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to protect per-pupil funding in real-terms, which it warned would actually cut overall school funding by £3.5 billion because pupil numbers are falling.

But in another damning assessment, Christine Farquharson, associate director at the IfS, said Labour’s manifesto offered “even less certainty”, adding: “We, and schools, are left with no sense of what might happen to budgets.”

A recent poll by Teacher Tapp found 44 per cent of heads anticipate running a deficit budget next academic year.

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, warned “failing to properly support education is a false economy and there is no indication in this manifesto that current cuts to education will be reversed”.

‘Small’ promises on big issues

Farquharson said the manifesto “identifies a whole series of challenges on education” including “burnt-out teachers, skyrocketing school absences [and] deficiencies in the special needs system”.

“But the resources offered up to deal with these issues were mostly small, and targeted at specific new proposals. Key details on core spending were missing.”

Labour had briefed before its manifesto launch in Manchester that there would be no “surprises” in the document.

Details of its core “missions” – including education – had already been set out over the past 18 months. The party has also repeatedly warned the state of public finances will hamstring its ability to carry out sweeping reform if it wins the election.

Knowledge-rich olive branch

But the manifesto did offer an olive branch to traditionalists in the schools sector, spooked by earlier pledges to focus more on “soft skills”.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

In the document, Labour pledged to “modernise the school curriculum”, but said it wanted to “build on” the success of “knowledge-rich syllabuses”.

In what is likely to be seen as a further effort to reassure the trad vote, the party also said its curriculum review would consider the “right balance of assessment methods whilst protecting the important role of examinations”.

Paul Whiteman, of the NAHT leaders’ union, said the current curriculum is “over-crowded and any review should start by looking at where we can sensibly reduce unnecessary content”.

Inclusive admissions praised

The party has previously said fixing the SEND crisis will be an “enormous” challenge, with a plan to come post-election.

But the manifesto said Labour would take a “community-wide approach, improving inclusivity and expertise in mainstream schools, as well as ensuring special schools cater to those with the most complex needs”.

“We will make sure admissions decisions account for the needs of communities and require all schools to co-operate with their local authority on school admissions, SEND inclusion, and place planning.”

Headteacher Andrew O’Neill said it was “clear that [Phillipson] has spotted issues with admissions of SEN children in our school system”.

And trust boss Vic Goddard added the statement “gives me hope they’ve listened to communities. Inclusion must become the norm.”

But still few policy details

Labour has focused communications on its pledge to hire 6,500 extra teachers and other big-ticket items like breakfast clubs and more school nurseries.

Bridget Phillipson
Bridget Phillipson

Bridget Phillipson, shadow education secretary, tweeted that the “best recruitment strategy is a strong retention strategy”.

She added the party will “restore the prestige and status of teaching. Teaching will be a profession of which to be proud once more.”

But there is little further detail on how the pledge will be achieved.

The IFS also said the pledge would boost the teacher workforce by just 3 per cent and 13,000 fewer secondary teachers than required were recruited last year.

‘Relationship reset’

The party warned that “most children attend schools where the Conservatives are failing to provide the support and teaching that they need”.

Phillipson has pledged to reset the “broken relationship between government, schools and families”.

The party has also pledged to work in “partnership” with unions – a far cry from the current deadlock between leaders and the Department for Education.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, welcomed the commitment, saying it was a policy priority as “trust is integral to the functioning of society”.

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