Early Years, Education and Skills

Labour’s Vision

The Labour Party believes the purpose of education is to make sure that everyone, whatever their background, is given the opportunity and skills to reach their full potential and live a good life.

As a party we want to develop a world-class education system that offers support for very young children in their early care and education, excellent schools and well-funded services for mature students and those wanting to reskill throughout their careers.

Good quality early education and care is the key to pulling down the barriers to achievement and opportunity that many children in England face. Many of the gaps in attainment between lower-income children and their wealthier peers are evident before they even start school.

Building a strong education system is essential for our country’s future economic health, but it is also important that individuals are given the opportunity to thrive and live good lives. We want to change the argument in education from one of not just economic imperatives but social imperatives too. It is important that we make sure that children are prepared for working life, that families are supported with childcare and that we have the skilled workforce needed for the future economy. However it is equally important that everyone is given the opportunity to live the life they want to and that they are supported in doing so.

Labour’s aim is to build a National Education Service which would be open to all throughout their lives. We want to ensure there is universal childcare to give all children a good start in life, allowing greater sharing of caring responsibilities and removing barriers to women participating in the labour market. We want to bring about the progressive restoration of free education for all; and guarantee quality apprenticeships and adult skills training. We also want to build a sustainable children’s social care system so that vital services are not lost and no child is ever allowed to fall through the net.

The issues

Last year the Early Years, Education and Skills Policy Commission looked at how to deliver a step change in early intervention and the early years. This year the National Policy Form (NPF) identified further work on building a modern early years system, developing a schools system for the 21st century, modernising further education and adult skills and how we can improve children’s social care and safeguarding as priorities for this year.

A modern early years system for a modern economy

The Tories have totally failed to deliver an early years system that works for all.

They have broken their election promises of 30 hours of free childcare to thousands of parents, their tax-free childcare commitment has experienced delay after delay, and the cost of childcare for working families has shot up to record levels. Nurseries are at risk of closure due to inadequate funding and hundreds of Sure Start services have been lost since the Tories came to office.

Labour is the party of social justice, and it is our aim to build a sustainable universal early years system that helps not just parents get back to work and childcare more affordable, but that gives children the best possible care in order that they do not begin school at a disadvantage.

Questions
  • What does a good early years care and education system look like? How can we ensure value for money but also that children have access to the best care possible?
  • How can we spread excellence in early years education so that every child, regardless of their background is given the best possible start in life?

A school system for the 21st century

Against a tide of constant upheaval and relentless changes since the Tories came to power in 2010, schools, teachers and the wider schools sector have coped well and have shown remarkable resilience.

However despite the Government’s arguments that this was necessary to raise standards across the board, a regional variation in education standards is more apparent than ever with children in London still out performing children in coastal towns. There are still too many children that are not receiving the education and opportunities they deserve.

Tory plans to bring back selection at 11 and open new grammar schools will only serve the minority of children who attend these schools. It will do nothing for the majority of children and actively make things worse for the most vulnerable. These plans will make the attainment gap between lower-income pupils and their wealthier classmates even wider.

Tory education policy promotes short-term quick fixes with no thought to how to ensure long-term school improvement and sustainability. The schools budget is facing unprecedented cuts of £3 billion by 2020, and the roll-out of the new schools funding formula will make this funding crisis even worse.

Schools everywhere need adequate funding and a permanent infrastructure of support services to help them function effectively. All children must have a right to an excellent education and be offered every opportunity to reach their full potential.

We are looking at how we can build a world-class education system that promotes sustainable school improvement, is evidence based and supports teachers and the wider school workforce.

Questions
  • How can we best build a sustainable funding system for schools?
  • What can we do to tackle the attainment gap and what should Labour’s approach be to selective education?
  • What can we do to tackle the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention? How can we raise the status of the teaching profession and help teachers and the wider school workforce to access further training and support?
  • What more can we do to help teachers better support children and young people with mental health issues?
  • What should the role of Ofsted be in a self-improving schools system?

Modernising and improving access to further education and adult skills

Since 2010 the further education sector has incurred real-terms cuts of around 14 per cent and providers are struggling to keep their doors open. There are now around 1.5 million fewer adult learners than there were in 2008. This has had implications for skills shortages in certain areas and has damaged the social role that accessing to this training had for many people.

The financial sustainability of further education is reaching crisis point with many colleges facing insolvency. The current Technical and Further Education Bill offers no new investment for the financial sustainability of this important sector that serves 4 million people in England every year. University Technical Colleges have been left neglected by the Government and are not attracting the students that may benefit from this education.

While we need to create more apprenticeships and encourage more people to undertake them, this cannot simply become a numbers game. The Government has committed to three million new apprenticeship starts over the course of this Parliament but with no care or assurance of the quality of training or strategic planning and are simply aiming for an arbitrary target. This will not ensure that students have access to the further education they need. There is a rapidly emerging skills gap in the UK, with Brexit likely to make this worse.

Questions
  • How can we improve access for adults that want to re-skill and develop the quality of workplace learning?
  • What role can Universities play in this?
  • How can we raise the quality of apprenticeships?
  • Does our further education system provide for the skills we will need in a future economy?
  • What can we do to address the skills gap and promote better strategic planning for apprenticeships and training?
  • What role do University Technical Colleges have to play?

Improving children’s social care and safeguarding

Children’s social care has been savagely cut by this Conservative Government, the social work sector is being propped up by agency workers, and there are elements of the Children and Social Work Bill which will put a hundred years of child protection legislation at risk by dismantling local authority safeguarding responsibilities.

Tory neglect of this area has left children at risk for far too long. Almost three quarters of local authorities’ children’s social services are currently rated less than good and young people that grow up in care are more likely to die an early death than their peers. Tory cuts have meant non-statutory services that many young people rely on have been lost and early help services which have been proven to lead to better outcomes for children have also gone.

Children’s social care is in crisis and government attempts to reform the sector have amounted to a Bill which in part would allow local authorities to exempt themselves from child protection duties. Such a move has led former government advisor, Professor Eileen Munro to conclude that this would pose a “serious danger” to vulnerable children.

Questions
  • How can we raise the quality of children’s social services so that vulnerable children are adequately cared for?
  • How can Labour build and ensure a sustainable funding mechanism that meets statutory obligations as well as vital other service provisions?
  • What more can we do for care leavers? How can we better support them?
  • How do we integrate service provision for our most vulnerable children and young adults to ensure the best possible life chances?
  • How can we best support local authorities to learn from best practice in the private sector as well as abroad, without posing risk to children?