Election 2024

General election 2024: What does it mean for schools?

Promised new school policies likely to be delayed, how teachers will vote and what policies they favour

Promised new school policies likely to be delayed, how teachers will vote and what policies they favour

A general election will be held on Thursday July 4, Rishi Sunak has announced, kick-starting a campaign in which schools policy is expected to be a key flashpoint.

The prime minister said now was the “moment for Britain to choose its future”.

But that means several important schools policies are likely to be delayed as public bodies enter the purdah period – including the teacher pay deal.

Should Labour win power, as expected, several proposed policies would also be junked – including the minimum service levels.

It also means many schools will face disruption as they close to be used as polling stations on the day.

From which schools issues are likely to feature in the election, to who teachers will vote for and what policies do they favour – Schools Week has everything you need to know…

Which school issues most likely to feature?

England will go to the polls at a time when school leaders are crying out for more funding for their schools, buildings are crumbling and RAAC still blights some settings and as ministers appear to be gearing up for a fresh battle with unions over pay.

Unions re-launched their highly effective School Cuts website last year in anticipation of this year’s election.

In 2017, education became the third biggest issue for voters, behind only Brexit and health. The Conservatives ended up losing their majority.

A poll after the election suggested 750,000 people changed their vote because of concerns about school funding.

However, according to YouGov polling, just 12 per cent of people think education is one of the one most important issues facing the country – way below other leading issues like the economy, health and immigration.

Important policies delayed (and some likely junked)

Given the election, parliament will dissolve on Thursday next week (May 30). Public bodies will then be subject to purdah rules – meaning they cannot do anything that could have a bearing on matters relevant to the election (although a date has not yet been set).

Previously, this has delayed new free school announcements and seen ‘inadequate’ Ofsted reports held back. In effect, government is hamstrung from making decisions or publishing anything.

This means some pretty important stuff will be delayed, and other proposed policies will never see the light of day if, as expected, Labour wins power.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan had promised government would reveal its teacher pay offer earlier this year, but that is now likely to be delivered late again – and fall to a new government.

The government usually does not respond to the recommendations of the teacher pay review body until mid or late July, much to the chagrin of unions and leaders, who have to make assumptions on pay when setting their budgets.

The workload reduction taskforce’s final set of recommendations was due to be published in Spring, but will now be in limbo.

The Department for Education is planning an update to its 2019 recruitment and retention strategy, but this will now be on the backburner too.

Ofsted is also consulting on changes as part of its Big Listen.

Meanwhile there are several ongoing consultations into new transgender guidance, strengthening protections in unregistered provision and sex education lessons.

A consultation on minimum service levels in education is yet to conclude too, but Labour has already said it will scrap this should it win power.

How do teachers plan to vote?

The last time Teacher Tapp asked about this, in October, they found 62 per cent of teachers planned to vote Labour.

Nine per cent planned to vote Lib Dem and just three per cent Conservatives. Sixteen per cent did not know.

According to the BBC’s national poll tracker, Labour were polling at 44 per cent nationally on May 20, compared to the Conservatives on 23 per cent, Reform on 11 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 10 per cent.

When asked by Teacher Tapp to choose one issue they would prioritise being fixed, nearly half of primary teachers said funding. For secondary teachers, pupil behaviour was the most popular (31 per cent), followed by funding (23 per cent).

What has Labour pledged?

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has made education one of his key “missions”.

A key policy is ending tax breaks for private schools and use some of the money to pay to recruit 6,500 more teachers, although the party has not said how this will be achieved.

The party has also pledged a “national excellence programmme” for school improvement, £210 million to give teachers a right to CPD, reform of Ofsted to scrap single-phrase judgments, free primary breakfast clubs and access to counsellors for all pupils.

Labour also plans to review curriculum and assessment, create new regional school improvement teams and introduce £2,400 retention payments for teachers who complete the two-year early career framework.

You can read about all their pledges in our policy tracker here.

What do teachers think about Labour’s policies?

A Teacher Tapp poll found Labour’s pledges on mental health were most popular among the profession. Open-access mental health hubs in every community came top, with pledges on more mental health professionals in second and third.

Replacing Ofsted grades with a “balanced scorecard” came fourth, and breakfast clubs in every primary came fifth.

The only policy with large disagreement between some teachers was the party’s plan to charge VAT on private school fees.

Meanwhile secondary teachers were much less likely to favour the party’s curriculum review policy.

What will the Tories’ pitch be?

Expect ministers to focus on the Conservatives’ record on education as they seek to cling onto power.

They have already started relentlessly sharing the misleading statement that the proportion of ‘good’ or better schools has risen from 68 per cent to 89 per cent on their watch.

The party will also shout about the country’s strong rankings in the PISA league tables as evidence their reforms over the past 14 years have worked.

Sunak said during today’s speech that the government had “reformed education and our children are now the best readers in the Western world”.

In relation to new policies, that is less clear.

But Sunak will likely speak a lot about his plans for a new “advanced British standard” qualification to replace A-levels and T-levels and make all pupils study English and maths to 18.

What about the other parties?

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to increase per-pupil funding above inflation each year, to extend the pupil premium and free school meals, reform exams, inspections and the curriculum and spend £390 million a year on tutoring.

Reform UK proposes to ban “gender ideology” and “critical race theory” in schools, give private schools a 20 per cent tax break, double the number of pupil referral units and teach home economics and social media risk in schools.

The Green Party wants to extend early years education to the age of 6, replace the national curriculum with a set of “learning entitlements”, scrap SATs and league tables, replace Ofsted with a National Council of Educational Excellence, pay governors and “integrate academies and free schools into the local authority school system”.

What do sector leaders say?

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, said “14 years of neglect and underfunding have left education – from early years through to post-16 – in tatters”.

“It is imperative that all political parties address this in their manifestos. Not in vague terms, with piecemeal solutions. But with meaningful proposals about how this situation will be reversed if they form the next government.”

“Our message is: we need a government to invest in education and to invest in our young people. If you value education, vote for education. Let’s give our children the education they deserve.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the ASCL leaders’ union, said “all political parties should make it a priority in their manifesto to commit to providing schools and colleges with the funding and staff they require to deliver a great education for all children and young people”.

For too long education has been seen as a drain on current resources, rather than an investment in future success. Over the next few months, all parties and candidates will have the chance to right this wrong and we urge them to grasp that opportunity.”

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