Labour Party election pledges announced, experts give their reactions

The Labour Party have announced what it would plan for education if elected on 8th June. The key pledges include:

  • stop the cuts to school budgets with a real terms increase in funding
  • reduce class sizes to under 30 for all five, six and seven year olds
  • free school meals for all primary school children
  • restore education maintenance allowance for college students
  • restore student grants for university students
  • scrap fees on courses for adult learners looking to re-train or upskill

Here academics give their expert reaction to the plans:

Comment from Stephen Gorard,  Professor of Education, Durham University:

“The Labour Party has proposed a number of policy changes and commitments for education. Some are more evidence-based than others, and all may be hard to fund. However, three of these proposals stand out for me in terms of vision.

Perhaps the most important is the emphasis on genuine lifelong learning opportunities with abolition of fees for adult learners. Since at least 1997, ‘education’ has been taken by policy-makers to mean schooling especially in the compulsory phases, with perhaps a nod to FE and then universities. This is a shame because lifelong trajectories in education and training are even more stratified by individual characteristics, family background and prior qualifications than schools or universities are. And yet much more attention is paid to the latter. True widening of participation must encompass adult learning, and not just re-training and upskilling but also third-age opportunities. This new vision is to be welcomed. Restoring the post-16 education maintenance allowance would be part of the same re-emphasis on overcoming barriers to participation.

Restoring grants for students at university sounds like part of the same package, but in reality is very different to EMA for the disadvantaged or abolition of adult learning fees for all. Much less than half of, the most qualified, students continue to university. Whether they pay fees or not has no impact on the participation of most people – especially those who leave school with poor or no qualifications. Keeping student numbers the same and providing places with a grant instead of up-front loans is unlikely to widen participation to under-represented groups by much. Widening participation almost certainly requires increasing participation and so making universities more open access. So whether grants would be effective is dependent on the number of places the state is prepared to fund. Offering new opportunities via opening access may be more important than the issue of grants.  Has Labour got a view on that?”

Expert reaction to the proposals from the Labour Party on higher education from Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education, Birbeck and UCL Institute of Education:

“Restoring student grants is a welcome development particularly for students from lower income backgrounds. The current government scrapped grants for students and bursaries for those studying subjects allied to medicine, such as nursing and midwifery. UCAS figures for March 2017 show a 23% drop in university applications among English students wanting to study subjects such as nursing, which attract female students and older women.

One of the most dramatic effects of the 2012/13 changes in student funding has been the decline in part-time undergraduate students. Since 2010, enrolments to part-time courses have fallen by more than 55%. Most part-time students are adults, and most are taking courses to improve their labour market prospects by reskilling and upskilling. Policies, such as scrapping or reducing tuition fees, to help revitalise part-time provision and adult skills, are vital to meet the skill needs of the economy.”

Expert reaction from Paul Grainger, Centre for Education and Work, UCL Institute of Education:

“Adult learners have been sadly neglected in recent times with the onus of payment falling on those least able to afford fees. The need to update the skills of the work force is always with us as a dynamic economy continually changes the nature of work. This will be particularly so post Brexit, as our economy adapts to different trading conditions. Scrapping fees for upskilling will be of benefit to all.”

Notes for journalists:

Gorard, S. and See, BH. (2013) Overcoming disadvantage in education, London: Routledge. Gorard, S., with Adnett, N., May, H., Slack, K., Smith, E. and Thomas, L. (2007) Overcoming barriers to HE, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books

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