Whatever The Election Result, Students Are Unlikely To Be The Winners

The U.K. is being convulsed by the most bitter election campaign in recent history, but whatever the result, students are unlikely to be the winners.

Election pledges to close the gap between rich and poor and raise standards are unlikely to be met, while there are doubts over whether promised new funding can be delivered, according to a new analysis of the rival party programs.

And the focus on affordable childcare rather than early years education will do little to increase levels of attainment.

With less than a week to go until U.K. voters go to the polls, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank today published an independent analysis of the likely impact of the election pledges contained in the party manifestos.

And their conclusion is that while there are “bold” promises to improve education, the reality is they are unlikely to have much impact.

Unlike the U.K.’s last general election in 2017, education has played a relatively low key role this time around, helped in part by the decision by the ruling Conservative Party to commit more funding to schools, taking much of the heat out of stories of schools facing a cash shortfall, even if school leaders are still feeling the pinch.

So far, the campaign has been marked by accusations of dirty tricks, misinformation, smears and personal attacks, with little focus on issues of substance.

But education is still one of the key issues for many voters and may be crucial in an election that is expected to be close.

The EPI found that although all the parties had made “bold pledges” about reducing opportunity gaps and increasing attainment, “the policies in their manifestos are unlikely to deliver on these aspirations.”

And even though much of the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers emerges before children even start school, the focus is on improving childcare rather than improving early years education.

All the major parties have committed to additional funding, which could raise standards and improve teacher retention, although the cost of some interventions may have been underestimated, meaning the money will have to be siphoned off from elsewhere in the education budget, the EPI said.

The ruling Conservative party had pledged to reverse its cuts to school spending, although a shift away from disadvantaged schools could end up widening the attainment gap, as would a reduction in the Pupil Premium, extra funding allocated to schools to benefit disadvantaged students.

The Conservative manifesto also leaves the door open to expanding school selection, which hampers social mobility, while it has little to say about early years or higher education, the EPI added.

The opposition Labour Party’s commitments on funding and teacher pay could help raise attainment, but those gains could be offset by plans to reduce accountability by scrapping Ofsted, the school inspection body.

Labour would also reverse many of the changes that have seen schools given greater autonomy, although it was not clear how this would raise standards and the disruption could be counter-productive, the EPI said.

There is also no evidence that Labour’s proposals to scrap higher education tuition fees would improve outcomes, access or participation, the report said.

Since launching its manifesto, Labour has also revealed plans to cap class sizes at 30 and recruit an additional 20,000 teachers, although there is little evidence that class size makes much difference to attainment levels and it is unclear where the additional teachers would come from, given schools already have difficulty recruiting.

While both Conservative and Labour are happy to make ambitious pledges on education, according to the EPI the evidence suggests that for students there is little to rejoice about, whatever the outcome on December 12.

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