Commenting on today’s launch of the Liberal Democrats manifesto for the General Election, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The National Education Union welcomes the fact that the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto has addressed many of the issues that the NEU has been campaigning on to ensure our children and young people get the education they deserve.

"We welcome the commitment to abolish primary SATs testing. These tests, beloved of the Government, cause enormous stress and narrowing of the curriculum – they do not produce useful information for teachers. Replacing SATs with moderated teacher assessment would be a big step forward, though we need to see more detail of how the ‘lighter touch testing’ element of these proposals would work.

“We would like to see mention of Baseline Assessment and the other national tests expected at primary school such as the phonics check and times table tests. Unless these failing national primary tests are removed our youngest children will not get the broad and balanced curriculum and love of learning to which they are entitled.

“Replacing Ofsted with a new Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools and removing the punitive aspect of school inspection – such as forced academisation – is very welcome and will lift some of the high-stakes element of inspection from schools’ shoulders. Ofsted has recently been shown once again to have a ‘startling and systematic bias’ against schools with disadvantaged children. Replacing individual school gradings with a report card approach which provides a wider picture of a school’s work could be a move in the right direction.

“The Liberal Democrats’ proposals to scrap school league tables, and remove the EBacc requirements which narrow the secondary curriculum, and replace them with an online report card detailing performance measures on a range of indicators is welcome. It shows they are listening to teachers’ concerns but the devil will be in the detail. Teachers and school leaders will need reassurance that the report card is not simply replacing one high-stakes accountability measure with another. We look forward to engaging on this question.

“The NEU welcomes the pledge to give local authorities the power to act as Strategic Education Authorities for their area, including responsibilities for admissions, exclusions and the powers to open new community schools where they are needed. However, the academy programme has deeply fragmented England’s school system and widened education inequality. Levelling the playing field for MATs and local authorities is a step in the right direction but it does not go far enough.

“Increasing the payments for the free hours to cover the actual cost of provision, investing in children’s centres and tripling the early years premium will go a long way to supporting early years settings. However, all 392 maintained nurseries in England face losing up to a third of their budgets on average next year, meaning every single maintained nursery faces cuts or closure by 2021. All political parties must pledge to secure the funding for these settings that currently educate 40,000 young children. 

 “The NEU welcomes the Liberal Democrats’ pledge to reverse the cuts to the main school budget lines since 2015 and to invest an extra £1 billion a year in 16-19 funding, including scrapping the VAT that colleges have to pay, and extending the pupil premium to 16-19 year-olds.

“The pledge to extend free school meals to all primary children and to those in secondary whose families received universal credit is a step towards tackling the growing rates of child poverty in England. No families should be forced to rely on food banks, yet Trussell Trust food banks use now stands at 1.2 million. This is a grotesque indictment of the fifth richest economy in the world.

“While it is important that staff are trained to identify mental health issues in children and young people it is not enough to say that schools must ‘provide immediate access for pupil support and counselling.’ This fails to recognise the number of children with mental health issues and the huge cuts to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) services and those affecting local authority provision of education psychologists in recent years.

“The commitment to recruit 20,000 more teachers is very welcome but to be successful we will have to tackle the problems that are making it hard to recruit graduates into teaching and driving experienced teachers out of the profession. Excessive workload driven by the high-stakes testing regime has made education an unfriendly place for education professionals. 

Only when teachers’ professional agency is restored will teaching once again be the attractive profession that it should be – and that’s why we are pleased to see promises of real action including ending all high-stakes testing, abolishing Ofsted and restoring the focus on real education not simply on tests.”