The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer announced a raft of education policy measures at his party’s annual conference in Brighton over the past week.
It was the first full conference to take place since Starmer assumed the leadership. The policy pledges come after shadow education secretary Kate Green told Schools Week last year that all previous proposals set out under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership were under review.
Here’s what we learned.
1. Labour will scrap private school tax exemption
Private schools in England do not currently have to pay VAT or business rates. Under Labour, this will no longer be the case.
The party estimates the policy, similar to one pledged under Corbyn in 2019, would raise £1.7 billion a year for the public purse, most of which would fund Labour’s other school commitments.
2. A ‘National Excellence Programme’
This will be Labour’s “ambitious school improvement plan”, aimed at boosting the number of ‘outstanding’ schools in all areas of the country, driving up standards and enabling every child to achieve their full potential.
While few details have emerged, it will focus on improving the prospects of the 4 in 10 young people who leave compulsory education without level 3 qualifications.
3. £347m teacher recruitment fund
Some of the money raised from taxing private schools will be spent on filling “over 6,500 vacancies and skills gaps” across school.
No firm plans for how to attract teachers to fill those vacancies have been set out, but Green told Schools Week this would include improving career pathways, continuing professional development and addressing workload issues.
4 £210m to give teachers a ‘right’ to CPD
A teacher development fund would be set up, to include a £47 million “excellence in leadership” programme for new heads.
The separate £210 million for teachers is the same as estimated by the Education Policy Institute in July as the cost of providing an annual entitlement to 35 hours of CPD for every teacher in England.
Green said the pledge would amount to a “right to continuing professional development” and time out to undertake it. The party has not confirmed what exactly the entitlement would involve.
5. Reform Ofsted to include school improvement role
Ofsted would be reformed to “focus on supporting struggling schools”.
Green said this would involve the watchdog being handed a strengthened role in school improvement, alongside inspection, although it is not clear how this would work.
Issues such as the length and frequency of inspections would also be up for discussion, she said.
6. Extra-curricular activities and ’10 by 10’ pledge
An essay published by Starmer last week revealed his ambition for every child to have opportunities to do things like learn a musical instrument or visit the seaside by the age of 10.
At conference, this pledge was titled “10 by 10”.
“As we recover from the pandemic, every primary and secondary child should have access to weekly extracurricular activities and after-school clubs,” Starmer pledged.
Further details are yet to be announced, but Green told Schools Week this would involve money going to schools to pay for activities during an extended school day.
7. Reform of citizenship to include ‘practical life skills’
The citizenship programme within the national curriculum would be reformed to include “practical life skills, such as such as pension planning, understanding credit scores, applying for a mortgage and understanding employment and rental contracts”.
Under the current national curriculum, pupils are already taught about credit and debt, savings and pensions.
8. ‘Mandatory’ digital skills across the curriculum
Labour would also specify “mandatory skills which must be embedded across the curriculum, to ensure a whole school approach to developing digital skills in every lesson”. This would become a “fourth pillar” of education, Starmer said, along with reading, writing and maths.
Green also told Schools Week she believed the national curriculum should apply to all schools including academies, which currently do not need to follow it.
“Digital skills, digital capability for this and future generations is like being able to hold a pen and write on a sheet of paper was for mine,” she said. “We can’t make it optional.”
Labour would also establish a £33 million fund to “renew” the 1.3 million devices handed out during the pandemic.
9. Two weeks’ compulsory work experience and guaranteed careers advice
Labour also announced at the weekend that it would introduce two weeks of compulsory work experience for all young people.
Every school would also have access to a professional careers adviser once a week, at an additional cost of £35 million a year