Dr Rona Tutt OBE is a highly respected member of the education community. We are very grateful to her for providing this article for us. In it, she takes a look at the political manifestos and provides an insight in to which party is offering what in terms of SEND and education. If you are a school leader, teacher, member of school support staff, parent (or intend on becoming one), or simply care about the education of our children then read this before you vote! (#GE2017)
It was in the same week in May that the three main political parties published their manifestos. First out of the blocks on Tuesday 16th May was Labour’s For The Many – Not The Few. The third chapter is devoted to education. Under the heading, Towards A National Education Service, the party presents a unified vision for learners of all ages, from an overhaul of early years provision through to improving the training and earning potential of the workforce.
The final paragraph in the section on schools, says Labour will:
…deliver a strategy for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) based on inclusivity, and embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and their parents are properly supported.
As well as acknowledging the need for better training, another welcome addition for those of us who are interested in British Sign Language (BSL), is the acknowledgement on page 113 of Labour’s support for BSL. For 70,000 people in the UK, BSL is their first or preferred language. It gained recognition as an official language in 2003, but the fight continues to give it full legal status, so any extra support for the cause is to be welcomed.
The day after the appearance of the Labour manifesto came the one by the Liberal Democrats. This has the title, Change Britain’s Future. Again, the third chapter, Put Children First, is the one covering education. At the beginning of the chapter, three priorities are set out:
- Investing nearly £7 billion extra in children’s education, to cover rising costs, a fairer national funding formula and the Pupil Premium (PP)
- Tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium and investing in high quality Early Years education
- Giving Local Authorities (LAs) control over admissions and new schools, and opposing any new selective schools.
Again, there is a paragraph about SEND:
Ensure that identification and support for special educational needs and disabilities takes place as early as possible. All new policies should have an assessment of how they affect pupils who have special educational needs, and ensure they adhere to duties under the Equality Act.
The idea that the SEN dimension should be considered in relation to any new policies is to be welcomed, as, despite the SEND Reforms and the Children and Families Act 2014, too often it would appear that the needs of these pupils are an afterthought.
To complete the trio of manifestos, the following day was the launch of the Conservative and Unionist party manifesto: FORWARD, TOGETHER – Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and Prosperous Future. Once more, it is the third chapter that covers education. Entitled, The World’s Greatest Meritocracy, there are sections on:
- creating more good school places by building at least 100 new free schools a year and lifting the ban on selective schools.
- strengthening the teaching of literacy and numeracy in the early years
- expecting every 11 year old to know their times tables by heart and improving accountability at key stage 3
- achieving growing numbers studying for the Ebacc combination of GCSEs, but also with a greater emphasis on technical and vocational routes.
Although there is no direct reference to SEND, of the 131 new free schools approved in April, 22 are special schools. Also in chapter three, under a section on Confronting Burning Injustices, there are paragraphs on ‘The Mental Health Gap’ and the plans for a new Mental Health Bill, as well as on ‘The Disability Gap,’ which is mainly about getting more people into work.
This is just a very quick dip into the manifestos of the three main parties. There is just room to mention the Green Party’s manifesto, Green Guarantee For a Confident and Caring Britain, which includes the promise to start formal education at the age of seven. This might reduce the number of young children diagnosed with conditions such as ADHD because we expect too much of them too soon.
And finally, although all the parties have various versions of their manifestos, the prize goes to the Green Party for having the most, as it is the only one to make it available in Welsh, Braille, BSL, Easy Read and an Audio version.
Dr Rona Tutt OBE