More than just universal free school meals
“The priority I want to focus on is education – because nothing is more central to creating both a stronger economy and a fairer society, where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.” – Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister, March 2015
In 2010, when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was unable to vote down the rise in tuition fees, many people felt let down by the Liberal Democrat party. Five years later, the question on everybody’s lips is: “What do the Lib Dems plan to achieve in government?”
A little history
The Liberal Democrat party was formed on 3 March 1988 when the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party merged. This relatively new party was initially called the Social and Liberal Democrats (SLD) and was a minority party, gaining just six percent of the vote at the 1989 European Elections, putting them in fourth place, below the Green Party.
In the 90s, the party gained seats in the Houses of Parliament, and managed to achieve representation in the European Parliament in 1994 with two MEPs.
Plans for a Liberal-Labour coalition fell through following Labour’s landslide victory in 1997, partly due to the Liberal Democrat’s demands for proportional representation, to replace the traditional first-past-the-post voting system.
In 2010, the Liberal Democrats won 23 percent of the vote and 57 seats in the House of Commons. Following the return of a hung parliament, with no absolute majority, the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition with the Conservative Party, and Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister during David Cameron’s premiership.
The big hit of their education policy, while in government since 2010, has been the introduction of universal infant free school meals (UIFSM), one of this government’s most far reaching education policies.
On the other hand, being unable to deliver their pre-election pledge to scrap university tuition fees proved very unpopular with key demographics.
So, what is the Liberal Democrat Party saying?
Their education manifesto starts with a belief in the early years, and ends with apprenticeships. They discuss why they no longer pledge to abolish tuition fees, saying: “As a party, we have learned from our mistake and will never again make a promise to the British people unless we are absolutely sure we can keep it.”
Their main pledges are:
- Guaranteed qualified teachers in all state schools
- A core-curriculum
- Sex education in all state schools
- A ring-fenced education budget for 2-19 year olds
- To end child illiteracy by 2025
- 15 hours per week of free childcare from the end of paid parental leave
The Liberal Democrat manifesto promises high-quality early years education, double the number of businesses which hire apprentices, and improved care for looked after children.
The manifesto in detail
Early years education
The Liberal Democrats state that they will raise the quality of early years provision by ensuring that every setting employs at least one qualified early years teacher. They will also increase the early years pupil premium and improve early identification of special educational needs.
Policy on UIFSM still leads the Liberal Democrat agenda, and if they win, this will reach even more children, with an extension to all primary children.
In government, the party plan to reduce the gap between rich and poor pupils by introducing a “fair National Funding Formula”.
Introducing a policy on qualified teachers in every school means developing a funding structure for professional development and establishing a profession-led Royal College of Teachers to oversee qualified teacher status.
Balancing flexibility with the core-curriculum forms the core of the party’s agenda for curriculum and qualifications. Nick Clegg wants to establish an independent Educational Standards Authority (ESA) which is not controlled by the Government, as well as introducing a slimmed-down core-national curriculum.
The Liberal Democrats believe that schools should have flexibility within the curriculum, but should also be equipped to cover “the essentials”. There will be a “Parents’ Guarantee” promising that every child will be taught the core-curriculum by passionate, qualified teachers who can inspire children to learn.
Further education and skills training
There are no plans to stop the changes to the GCSEs and A-levels within the manifesto; however, Nick Clegg has pledged to stop the Conservative Party’s plan to return to O-level and CSE qualifications.
A renewed push for quality apprenticeships and degree-equivalent higher apprenticeships is also stated in the manifesto.
To end where we began, although they can’t promise to abolish tuition fees, the Liberal Democrats pledge to ensure that no student has to pay anything until they are earning over £21,000 per year.
With the election just a week away, TheSchoolBus is poised to offer you all of the latest updates and help you stay ahead of changes to legislation. Don’t forget, you can join in the debate by using #GE2015 on Twitter.