ELECTION SPECIAL: How will education look in 2021?

June 7, 2017 by Minerva Tutors,

It’s 2021, after four years of the new government. Cars are driving themselves, people only shop online and at least two of your good friends are robots.  But what will the education landscape look like in 2021, if each party keeps to their manifesto promises?


A Tory Future

A skinny, knobbly-kneed lad emerges from a classroom containing 56 pupils and only 0.4 teachers, in a crumbling, asbestos-ridden building, with no textbooks, sports equipment, or free lunches, and worried about one day being in student debt of over £590,000. 

The Conservatives have made a lot of promises on education in this election, the most highly publicised being the plan to the lift the ban on opening new selective state (grammar) schools. So you could have children attending one of these new grammar schools, but recently an academic claimed that their calculations didn’t include the bottom third of poorest families – those eligible for free school lunches – in the UK, invalidating any claims of social mobility.

Free school lunches you say? Hold your horses. There is also Theresa May’s contentious plan to replace free school lunches for infants with free breakfasts (causing Tim Farron to dub her ‘the lunch-snatcher’), which her party costed at only 7p each, in a move that could cost working class families around £400 a year, and affect 900,000 less advantaged children.

Just finished a 7p breakfast

And if you’re at a state secondary school, it’s bad news too – the current cost of repairing existing school buildings, so that they are up the government’s own ‘satisfactory’ (not ‘good’) standard, is estimated at £6.7 billion. Many industry leaders have criticised May’s plans, saying they’ll widen social divisions, and money allocated for new grammars, academies and free schools should instead be focused on funding and improving struggling existing schools.

What’s that about academies and free schools? The Tories are planning to build up to 100 new schools a year, with the aim of providing thousands more good school places across the UK. Part of this will be funded by forcing independent schools and universities to sponsor these new schools to plug the funding gap, but this has drawn strong criticism from industry leaders, when schools are universities are already feeling an unprecedented funding squeeze. The Public Accounts Committee has also criticised the Tories for wasting tens of millions on free schools, and paying massively over the odds for them.

The Conservatives have pledged £40 billion for education over the next parliament, claiming education funding is protected and at ‘the highest level it’s ever been.’ The Tory manifesto said its plan to spend an extra £4 billion by 2022 on schools represented “more than a real terms increase for every year of the parliament”. But home secretary Amber Rudd subsequently admitted this is a lie. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that the pledge would equate to a real-terms cut in spending per pupil of 2.8 per cent between 2017-18 and 2021-22, or 7 per cent using 2015-16 (and not 2010-11) as the starting point – its biggest drop in 30 years. What does that mean for students? Well, at a glance:

  • Larger class sizes
  • Fewer staff
  • Fewer subject options, especially in the arts
  • Fewer extra-curricular options and less equipment available
  • Parents increasingly being asked to contribute money towards running schools
  • Possibly even a four or four and a half day week in some areas.

Their ‘new funding formula’ – a plan to redistribute rather than increase education funding – faced a backlash, even from Tory MPs, as it meant many schools would have their funding decreased, with the worst hit losing up to £300,000 a year annually.  

Teachers, while having their pay increases capped at only 1% annually, would be lured to the profession by offers of ‘forgiveness’ on student loan repayments, with hope it would stem the ongoing issues with teacher retention. All of this is without touching the previous Conservative government’s changes to GCSEs and A Levels, that have caused stress, anxiety and confusion among schools, teachers and students alike (including the costs of mountains of new syllabus textbooks, which schools can barely afford due to the ongoing funding crisis…did we mention there was an ongoing funding crisis?)  

So what does it look like for pupils? The majority will have fewer subjects, resources, staff and extra-curricular options, they’ll be in larger classes in deteriorating buildings, students will graduate with the highest student debt of anywhere in the world, and little’uns will go hungry (and possibly even have to clean their own classrooms).

But a few lucky students may end up in swanky free schools, or even a new grammar. Sounds good, right?

A Labour Future

A happy, psychologically healthy and well-centred young girl skips out of her refurbished school building, overflowing with new textbooks, small classes, brilliant teachers  endless curricular activities and with the choice to study any subject she pleases, from Art and Design to Xylophone and Zoology. She had a delicious, nutritious lunch, and is looking forward to studying at a world-class university one day – for free. “How do they pay for all this!?” She wonders. No one knows. 

Labour has made education – specifically funding – a key part of their election manifesto. This includes the formation of a National Education Service (NES), akin to the NHS: education which is free at the point of use, ‘from cradle to grave.’ As well as early years, secondary and higher education, Labour have also promised to invest in apprenticeships, and further/adult education, so their priorities are truly, ahem, ‘for the many, not the few.’

So what’s the biggest difference? Tuition fees! Whereas the Tories will raise university tuition fees up to £9,250, Labour would abolish them, and even consider writing off debt for those who had to pay the £9,000 tuition costs implemented under the coalition government. Labour would also reintroduce maintenance grants, abolished in 2016 in favour of loans, so disadvantaged pupils were less put off university, as is currently the case. This would mean a lot of very happy graduates – although the Education Policy Institute, citing an £11.5 billion funding gap, (or maybe more, no one knows, especially not Labour), isn’t so sure about the plan.

And what about schools? Well, although students wouldn’t have any new grammars or free schools to choose from, as Labour wouldn’t follow through these plans, Jeremy Corbyn has promised to invest in improving existing schools (as, er, all the experts suggested). This means making sure schools are properly resourced by reversing Tory cuts, introducing a fairer funding formula that leaves no school worse off and widening free school meal access, while redressing the historical underfunding of certain schools and areas. Labour will also invest in new school buildings, including the gradual removal of asbestos from existing schools.

Pretty sure this is how all the refurbished, asbestos-free schools will look, here in Cloud Cuckoo Land – sorry, Stockport.

So that would mean better existing schools with better resources, smaller class sizes (max. 30), fewer exam-based assessments, and better provision for students with mental health difficulties and special educational needs. Additionally, Labour plans to remove the public-sector pay cap for teachers, cut rising workloads by reducing and monitoring bureaucracy and give them more direct involvement in the curriculum, which would hopefully help alleviate the teacher retention crisis. Unsurprisingly, the teacher vote is swinging dramatically towards Labour

Corbyn – head in the clouds yet simultaneously somehow also buried in the sand – has also promised greater early years allowances for children, with subsidised provision on top of current free-hour entitlements, to ensure that everyone has access affordable childcare before full-time school starts. They also plan to extend the 30 free hours to all two year-olds, and move towards making some childcare available for one year-olds and extending maternity pay to 12 months, which would massively ease the burden on many new parents, if it were even remotely possible.

And how much will all of this cost? The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that Labour’s plans would cost £4.8 billion on top of what the Tories have promised. The IFS’s Luke Sibieta said: “Labour would increase spending per pupil by around 6% after inflation over the course of the parliament, taking it to just above its previous historic high in 2015.” – or about £500 more per pupil than the Tories are plan to spend (which, according to our calculations, could buy you quite a few textbooks, music lessons, or extra staff). Corbyn has suggested slightly higher tax on top earners to cover the costs of these changes, but the IFS – as they were with the Tories –  is not fully convinced by his plans. 

Fab! That all sounds great doesn’t it? Restored buildings, more subjects, better resources schools, happier, healthier students and teachers (and therefore, presumably parents too) …how much will it all cost though?

Well, it’ll, um…with all the free school meals and free tuition, refurbishments and the increased early years care…and the apprenticeships scheme, we’ll, um…raise some taxes and, er…we’ll get back to you on that!

A Lib Dem Future

A child emerges from school in 2021. Everything is pretty much the same as it is now, but marginally better…also we’re still in the EU, and Tim Farron is somehow Prime Minister.  

A Liberal Democrat education system would see slightly less dramatic changes than those proposed by either of their main party rivals. They have promised a further £5.7bn a year will be spent on schools and colleges to protect per-pupil funding in real terms, and ensure no school loses out in the national funding formula. This is as part of a wider £14 billion public spending package – significant investment, but nothing on the £48 billion proposed by Corbyn’s Labour party.

As a result, they are offering only half of the 30 hours early years childcare for all two-year olds Labour have promised (so, 15 hours) and have not made any promises to scrap tuition fees for university – the biggest funding issue for Labour. However, there is a focus on early years provision, with the promise to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per pupil per year, expecting to see significant future results (and school lunches protected).

Leader Tim Farron has promised to oppose new grammar schools, and ensure that per-pupil budgets will grow if class sizes do.

They would also remove the cap on public sector pay, as part of a wider drive to improve teaching conditions, which comes as great news for teachers. Farron would lower the voting age to 16, which is great news for politically-inclined sixth formers, and hope to raise £1 billion in tax by legalising marijuana – great news for students, presumably to soften the blow of maintaining £9,000 tuition fees.

So really, a Lib Dem future would be pretty similar to the status quo, except with slightly happier and slightly more (probably) teachers, slightly brighter 3-4 year-olds, and slightly more zoned-out university students.

Whatever happens on June 8th…

Hoorah for democracy!

For a more complete look at the three main party manifestos, click here for the Lib Dems, here for Labour and here for the Conservatives.

By David Bard


David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.

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