Labour Party manifesto - more of the same
12 Apr 2010
I suppose it's to be expected from a Party that has been in power so long, but there were no surprises or radical departures from existing education policy in the Labour manifesto.
Their claim to a 'big idea' comes down to the target of 1,000 schools becoming part of federations through 'mergers or take-overs'. They aim to create a 'new generation of not-for-profit chains of schools'.
The manifesto tries to tread a tricky balancing act between seeking to praise and trust teachers, on the one hand, and wanting to give parents new rights to sack poor school managements on the other.
However, it's hard to believe that many ballots to replace school leaderships will actually happen in practice. Remember the parental ballots on replacing grammar schools - we only ever had one.
Much of the effort behind the manifesto has gone into spiking the Tory guns. So we have several echoes of Tory plans in proposals for: a pupil premium (really just a new name for existing funding mechanisms), more 'Cadet Forces' in state schools, and new 'University Technical Colleges' .
Much of the rest is tinkering at the edges: Mandarin teaching in primary schools, new providers to take over existing Pupil Referral Units, and guaranteed online information for parents.
Other parts fall into the 'worthy but dull' category, mostly continuing projects that have already started: expanding Diplomas, pressing ahead with raising the education leaving-age, more one-to-one tuition and catch-up classes for those falling behind.
There is one bit of blunt honesty on funding when it admits that 'funding will not rise as fast as in recent years'.
On higher education, the 50% target has effectively been replaced with a new 75% target for young people to enter either university of an advanced apprenticeship/technician level qualification.
There is a deafening silence on what will happen to top-up fees with the manifesto - as expected - hiding behind the forthcoming Browne Review.
However any expansion that will be funded will focus on Foundation Degrees, part-time study and on science, technology and maths subjects.
There is an interesting reference in the chapter on growth to encouraging higher education as an 'export business' and to wanting the Open University to reach a global market in distance learning.
Otherwise, this is - frankly - a rather unexciting manifesto. But then many in education might welcome a little less excitement than they have been through over the past decade (mind you there may be a few stirrings about the promise of a review of qualifications sin 2013 - although that's also an old promise).
And, maybe, that is Labour's intended appeal -- 'stick with us and we will finish the job'.
We shall see what the Tories have in store tomorrow.