3rd Year Week 2 TT05

Topic: Election Issues: Education

By Mike Baker
BBC News education correspondent

Labour will go into its third successive election claiming that education is its "number one priority".

Its first term focused on primary schools, the second on the "transformation" of secondary schools.

The third, although the party won't put it this way, would be about consolidating those reforms.

So have Labour's promises been met? And what do the other parties stand for?

In 2001, Labour wanted to put "bog standard comprehensives" into the dustbin of history.

The manifesto promised a system of specialist secondary schools in England, each with its own ethos and curriculum focus.

Labour pledged 1,500 specialist schools by 2006 starting in September.

Labour also promised more City Academies: 17 are now open. The plan for the next term will be to open at least 200.

However Labour has not been so successful in achieving its primary school targets of 85% of 11 year-olds reaching the expected levels in the national tests in Maths and English in England.

In fact, last year's figures were 74% and 78% respectively.

On spending, Labour promised to increase education's share of national income.

This has been done, with spending rising from 5% of GDP in 2001/2 to an estimated 5.4% now.

Promises to spend £8bn on school buildings and to recruit 10,000 extra teachers were also exceeded.

Labour also made one promise not to do something - but did it anyway. University "top up" fees of up to £3,000 per year will start in England from September 2006.

On the Further Education front, Labour also met its promise to extend Education Maintenance Allowances for 16 to 18 year-olds in England, but has faced strong criticism from colleges over inadequate and unfair funding.

Student anti-fees demonstration
Many students and lecturers have opposed top-up fees

Labour's slogan for 2005 is "Schools forward not back".

The manifesto is effectively a plea to finish the job, promising more specialist schools and 200 city academies by 2010 in England.

Labour has now promised to increase spending as share of national income - it was not in mini-manifesto but it was added in the full manifesto.

Indeed Labour's 2005 promises are somewhat shorter on detailed targets than previous manifestos.

The only specific commitment on standards is to reach the missed 2004 target for 11-year-olds in Maths and English.

Labour says the main theme of a third term would be putting parents in the "driving seat" and encouraging more individualised teaching, especially small group tuition both during the school day and after-hours.

Other promises (for England) include: 3,500 Children Centres by 2010, 90% of 16-year-olds staying in full-time education by 2015, and fast-track expansion of popular schools.

Conservative Plans

The Conservatives have showed a recent enthusiasm to campaign on education - with a focus on school discipline.

They would give head teachers more autonomy over admissions and create 24,000 places at "Turnaround" schools in England.

These would provide full-time schooling for disruptive pupils with the aim of returning them to mainstream education.

They also promise to increase parental choice by changing admissions procedures and offering a virtual "voucher" worth around £5,000 (the cost of a state school place) so parents can "buy" places at any independent school willing to offer them at this price.

Independent schools would not be allowed to charge any top-up fee.

The Tories also promise to stop the closure of separate schools for children with special needs.

And they want to scrap centrally-set examination targets, set quotas for top A-level grades, and allow the return of O-levels in England and Wales.

Overall the Conservatives plan to spend an extra £15bn a year on schools by 2009-10.

The Tory message is a return to traditional standards and an end to political correctness in schools.

That may touch a popular theme but allows opponents to accuse them of looking to the past.

In Higher Education, the Conservatives will scrap all university tuition fees.

However they will charge commercial rates of interest on student loans.

lesson being monitored
The Lib Dems want to abolish Ofsted inspections

By abolishing subsidies for student loans they will create endowments for universities.

The Liberal Democrats put their focus on improving the comprehensive school system through guarantees on class size, quality teaching and reduced bureaucracy.

Specifically they would cut class sizes to a "maximum average of 25" for seven to 11-year-olds and would abolish the national tests at age seven.

They would adopt Tomlinson-style reforms to the exam system, replacing GCSEs and A-levels with a new diploma that gives equal weight to vocational qualifications.

The schools inspectorate, Ofsted, would be abolished by the Liberal Democrats.

Charles Kennedy will target the student vote hoping to capitalise on the promise to abolish tuition fees following their success in getting rid of up-front fees in Scotland.

Ending school inspections and reducing testing have won the Liberal Democrats opinion poll support from teachers - the question is how popular they will prove with parents.



All the main parties see education as a high priority and each will be keen to campaign on issues such as discipline, exam standards, and university fees.

However, because of devolution, the approach on all these issues will differ throughout the UK - for example, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not have specialist schools or City Academies and top-up fees are only being introduced in England and Northern Ireland.

Indeed political opponents are likely to make much of the fact that Labour has not extended its English reforms into other parts of the UK. (In Wales, for example, head teachers do not have the same control over budgets.)

Top-up fees will not be an issue in Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament has agreed not to introduce them, and in general the (very different) education system is seen by many Scots as performing well.

The issue is more contentious in Wales, where the Welsh Assembly has yet to decide on the recommendations of the Rees Commission, but it has ruled out any top-up fees before 2007.

School league tables and key stage exams have been abolished in Wales, while the latter were never introduced in Scotland.

There is also concern about the future of small rural schools in Wales, which has been articulated by Plaid Cymru.