Party policies unlikely to deliver pledges to reduce opportunity gaps

The Education Policy Institute (EPI), funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has carried out an analysis of the manifesto education plans of the five main parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and Brexit parties).

It finds that although all parties have made bold pledges about reducing opportunity gaps and raising educational attainment, the policies in their manifestos are unlikely to deliver on these aspirations.

The attainment gap between poor children and the rest often emerge before entry to school, however party policies seem to focus on improving childcare for employment and cost of living reasons, rather than focusing on high quality early years education.

While Labour and the Liberal Democrats are making major funding commitments in this area, there are serious questions about whether their policies can be delivered effectively and secure high quality and value for money over the limited implementation periods envisaged. The Conservatives give no indication of whether they will take action to improve the quality and progressiveness of early years entitlements.

All major parties are pledging additional funding for schools, colleges and special needs education– with Labour and the Greens committing to the biggest increases. This could help to deliver effective interventions and may improve teacher retention. But under Conservative policies, there will be a relative shift in funding away from schools with higher levels of disadvantage – and this attempt to “level up funding” could widen the disadvantage gaps in attainment. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats may have under-estimated the cost of their policies on free school meals, and this could require funding to be diverted from other parts of the schools budget.

Large policy differences have opened up between the parties over school inspection, school testing and performance tables. The current system of accountability is in need of improvement, but education research suggests that Labour and Liberal Democrat plans to scrap primary tests and move to lower stakes inspection could damage attainment, and might particularly pose a risk to improving outcomes for the most vulnerable learners.The Conservatives do not commit to improving the current system or addressing any of its negative incentives and impacts.

While all parties are committed to additional education funding over the years ahead, there is a high level of uncertainty about the revenues which have been earmarked for such funding. The Conservative plans assume that the growth impact of Brexit will be moderate; the Labour plans assume the same, and also rely upon large tax revenues from a limited number of sources; meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are banking on a “Remain Bonus”, and revenues from uncertain sources such as tax avoidance. With all parties, it is unclear how education spending plans would be altered if revenues prove less robust than planned.

Natalie Perera, Executive Director and Head of Research at the Education Policy Institute, said: “All of the main parties are united by one thing – bold ambitions to raise attainment and close gaps. However, our analysis shows that while each party has some well-designed and helpful policies, none has a properly evidence-based strategy to meet their ambitions. In order to address the inequality gap at age 16, parties should commit to policies which build on the evidence of what works, which includes high quality early years education and ensuring that children in the most disadvantaged schools have access to the best teachers.”


Read more