From education to employment

Political parties must prioritise education, from the early years to adult reskilling, ahead of the next general election

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Following the pandemic’s disruption and over a decade of austerity, the education system in England faces a number of challenges in the years ahead. But, with a general election anticipated next year, there is a genuine risk that education will not secure the profile it requires given wider economic issues and demands on public services.

For the first time, the Education Policy Institute, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is providing a summary of the best evidence on current education challenges and effective policy interventions in order to assist political parties in drawing up their manifesto pledges on education. We make a number of calls on any incoming government.

In the early years this means:

  • Simplifying the funding system and weighting it more heavily toward children from low-income families and children with SEND.
  • Publishing and implementing an early years strategy that will create a sustainable model for providers that is also affordable for families, including rolling out the Family Hub model in England.

In schools this means:

  • Tackling widening gaps in pupil attainment between vulnerable learners and their peers.
  • Reforming the current accountability framework, to ensure it is not adversely impacting education. 
  • Clarifying the role of local authorities within the now predominantly academised school system.
  • Providing mental health support throughout schools.

In post-16 and higher education this means:

  • Heightening incentives to encourage greater numbers of young people to pursue apprenticeships and carrying out a broader review of post-16 qualifications.
  • Increasing the financial sustainability of institutions in the higher education sector and create a progressive student finance model that better supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Introducing maintenance support for adults seeking to re-skill.

For school and college funding this means:

  • Increasing per pupil funding, ensuring capital expenditure is sufficient to maintain and improve the school and college estate, and better supporting schools to deliver their wider roles, particularly in disadvantaged areas.
  • Ensuring funding is targeted at closing the disadvantage gap, through increasing the pupil premium and directing additional funding towards persistently disadvantaged pupils.
  • Extending pupil premium funding to cover pupils with child protection plans and relevant students in post-16 education, and addressing relatively low funding for 16-19 education more broadly.  
  • Reforming high needs funding, increasing funding amounts and amending the formula to better reflect current needs.

And in relation to the education workforce this means:

  • Establishing greater parity between teacher pay and salaries found in competitor occupations.
  • Supporting retention through a focus on improving teacher wellbeing, workload and flexible working arrangements.
  • Recognising the benefits of high-quality CPD and supporting its delivery.  

Education should be a priority for any party vying for power and we urge that consideration be given to the independent and evidence-based recommendations in this report.

Following the publication of party manifestos, we will publish further analysis examining whether education pledges made by political parties in England are likely to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities, and what the likely cost might be.

Jon Andrews, Head of Analysis at the Education Policy Institute, said:

“Whatever the outcome of the next election, it is clear there is much to do to get education back on track following a hugely disruptive pandemic and a decade dominated by funding cuts. A focus on the early years, greater funding that is targeted at those most in need, and a plan to ease the recruitment and retention challenges facing schools must form cornerstones of any new government’s education strategy. As the parties set out their plans for education, we will also assess the extent to which they are
likely to support education effectively over the coming years.”

Natalie Perera, Chief Executive of the Education Policy Institute, said:

“An evidence-based education reform and investment strategy must be a priority for all political parties. The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is at its widest in a decade and, combined with a shortage of teachers across the country and increasing funding pressures, there is a burning need for education to be at the forefront of manifestos. We urge all parties to adopt our recommendations, in order to tackle the biggest challenges facing education today.”

Josh Hillman, Education Director at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“The wealth of evidence gathered here highlights the many significant challenges that need to be addressed in manifestos; widening achievement gaps between the advantaged and disadvantaged; the struggle to ensure the supply of specialist teachers; trade-offs in how funding is allocated across phases of education. All political parties should immerse themselves in the analysis and recommendations as they develop policies to shape the future of education.”

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