John Dunford’s election blog, Tuesday 11 May

This blog is reposted here from John’s 2010 election blog for ASCL

With talks now taking place between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, independent commentators are reflecting on the greater similarities between their main policies. On education policy, however, that is not the case.

Both the LibDem and Labour parties have been specific about maintaining funding increases for schools, although the LibDems have been more generous. Both argue for improved professional development and a stronger role for local authorities – for the LibDems, this is for all schools; for Labour, this is only for schools that are not academies. And that’s about it.

In addition, all three parties favour some sort of pupil premium, want to expand Teach First and the graduate teacher programme, tackle bullying and improve discipline.

The LibDems have been particularly critical of Labour’s centralised approach to education policy and could hardly expect Labour to introduce the kind of Education Freedom Act proposed in the LibDem manifesto.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are more common areas between the Labour and Tory manifestos. Both would increase the number of academies, free from local authority influence. Both would start 14-19 technical academies. They would also strengthen home-school agreements, help successful schools to take over schools in difficulty, retain key stage 2 tests and implement the recommendations of Lord Browne’s review of university fees. This last point is a critical difference with the LibDems since it has enormous financial implications, both for the Treasury and for the higher education sector.

Finally, it is interesting to note that, whereas the education portfolio used to be a Cabinet post for politicians on the way down the greasy pole, it is now firmly established as a job for those on the way up. The three leading candidates for the Labour leadership – Ed Balls, Alan Johnson and David Miliband – have all been education ministers. Michael Gove is a close confidant of David Cameron and David Laws is a key member of the LibDem negotiating team. Indeed, it is not too far-fetched to suggest that David Laws could become secretary for state for education in either a LibCon or a LibLab coalition.

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