Labour Party conference education round-up

This week the Labour Party convened in Liverpool for its annual conference. Here we look at the big education policy announcements from Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner on academies and Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn on early years.

Tighter controls on academies, expanded powers for local authorities

  • The right of councils to create new schools would be re-established.
  • Councils would again become the admissions authorities for all schools, including academies.
  • End the requirement for local authority schools to convert to academies if they are rated “inadequate” following inspection.
  • Local authorities would be able to take back academies that are being re-brokered.
  • Local authorities will be able to force academies to expand to meet demand for school places.
  • “National pay rules” would be imposed across all schools, including a 20:1 ratio for CEO pay, meaning academy chiefs could only earn 20 times the salary of the lowest paid employees.
  • Encouragement of ‘community-run schools’, a now obscure type of school promoted under the Blair Government that allows parents and teachers to get involved in running schools.

Speaking ahead of the conference Mrs Rayner also promised a crackdown on ‘off-rolling’, saying Labour would “ensure that there is no unintended reward for so-called off-rolling”.

SCHOOLS NorthEast analysis:

The Shadow Education Secretary’s speech stopped short of pledging to return all academies to local authority control; her proposals as they stand would only limit their autonomy and lead to a gradual reduction in the number of academies over time.

Labour also signalled that they would rein in the autonomy accorded to MATs should they form the next Government. Changes around related party transactions, CEO pay and admissions are clear signals that the Party intends to impose stricter limits on what MATs can do. Labour also briefed journalists that they would “transfer responsibility for decision making and budgets back to schools, requiring every school to have a governing body of democratically elected parents, teachers, other school staff, community representatives, and to consult on any major changes in school policy or governance before they are introduced”.

Following the Shadow Education Secretary’s speech, conference delegates voted for a motion which calls for the urgent development of proposals to wind up MATs and turn over control and management of schools to local democratically controlled structures”, though Angela Rayner herself has not committed to this. It is therefore unclear whether Labour is officially committed to abolishing MATs, though it appears the Party’s thinking is moving in that direction.

Early Years: universal 30 hours coverage and subsidised additional hours

  • Extend the 30 hours of free childcare programme to the parents of all three and four year olds with no means testing.
  • Phase in subsidised provision on top of these entitlements, with free provision for families whose incomes are under £16,200 and a maximum of £4 per hour for families with incomes over £66,000.
  • Gradually require all staff to be qualified to Level 3 or working towards a Level 3 qualification, including offering routes for those already working in the sector to attain these qualifications on the job.
  • Increase the proportion of staff with qualifications Level 4 and above from 20 per cent to 45 per cent
  • Increase the graduate workforce three-fold, so graduate staff can spend 80 per cent of their time in contact with children and 20 per cent supervising other staff.
  • Increase average early years funding rates to help the many childcare providers that are struggling as a result of the 30-hour policy.
  • Put an extra £4.8bn into early years provision to ensure that offering these hours is affordable for providers.
  • Increase funding for providers to £7.35 per hour of contact time by the end of the roll out.
  • Establish a national pay scale to raise standards of care by creating a graduate-led workforce, improving skill levels of staff.
  • The childcare system would be simplified with the launch of a national childcare online access portal, which would replace the existing complicated mix of vouchers and credits.

SCHOOLS NorthEast analysis

Given existing concerns around the shortfall in funding for the existing 30 free hours policy, providers may remain sceptical of this proposal until more detailed costings are published.

Recruiting Early Years workers in large numbers and improving qualification levels will be challenging but action to reverse the current downward trend in levels of qualification is needed. Highly qualified Early Years staff are an ageing workforce, with more than half of level 6+ qualified staff over 40 and 21% approaching retirement in the next 10 to 15 years.

On pay, there are concerns in the sector that existing plans for wage increases will drive up costs significantly and put some providers out of business. Providers may therefore consider that the Labour leaders’ £7.35 per hour pledge is not as attractive once the new national pay scale is factored in, though the detail of the policy is needed to make a judgement.

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