A Liberal Party Policy Statement
Liberal education policy is designed as a lifelong process to maximize the capability and self-fulfilment of individuals, thereby maximising their full potential, and enriching their lives, together with that of the community of which each is a part.
Liberals believe that education should be seen as a form of empowerment rather than as something that is done to the learner, and be regarded as an on going entitlement, with access not restricted by age.
The Liberal belief in the concept of community and the freedom of the individual recognizes that:
The Liberal Party believes that, as presently organised, the system is not working. There is a shortage of governors with the necessary skills and time to spare on a voluntary basis; budget constraints are leading to the recruitment of probationers in preference to experienced teachers; funds are not sufficient for the refurbishment of deteriorating buildings; and valuable teacher time is absorbed in administration and management tasks for which the teachers are mostly untrained.
Nonetheless we consider that some decisions are most appropriately made in each local school. Accordingly we call for a radical reform of the LMS rules to include:
The interests of pupils can best be served by schools funded and supported by Local Education Authorities, that the role of the LEA should be an “enabling” role, and that no schools should be allowed to “opt out” of LEA control.
The enforcement of regulations currently restricted to the work place should also be extend to educational establishments. An extensive programme of refurbishment and replacement of many of our decrepit school buildings is urgently needed which will further create opportunities for community facilities and adoption of new, energy saving building techniques.
Liberals oppose the principle of a national curriculum, believing it to be a dangerous
concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State for Education.
Sustained investment in teaching staff and facilities is vital for the future of our schools and Liberals envisage that extra funds will be required for the payment of teachers and for equipment.
There is a need act to improve the morale of teaching staff. We believe this could be best achieved by the creation of an independent review body which would introduce a unified structure for salaries and career grades to reflect the importance we attach to education. Contracts of employment guaranteeing academic freedom should be introduced for all teachers and lecturers, together with a system of appraisal, developed in consultation with the profession, to improve the calibre of teaching.
Liberals call for the rapid expansion of nursery education, not so much as an aid to working parents, but more in response to the social education needs of the children themselves, for whom such provision lays a good foundation for all that may follow. We feel it is useful to have nursery provision on the same site as infant schools so as to promote an easy transition to the latter.
Liberals are concerned by recent research undertaken in this country and in the USA which indicates that teaching 4-6 years olds to read and write and master simple arithmetic may be damaging and counter-productive; may permanently disadvantage as many as one third of our children and may explain our declining educational performance relative to other countries, the escalating gender gap in education and a rising numbers of disaffected young males, especially in deprived areas. Liberals consider that the National Curriculum and its pre-occupation with achieving numeracy and literacy at the earliest possible age could be making matters worse.
Accordingly, we propose a comprehensive and urgent study into the concept of Pre-school education for 3-5 year olds in which children are taught attention listening and memory skills, appropriate group behaviour, conceptual understanding and phonological and motor skills. Liberals note that this approach, otherwise known as the Central European Model, does not educate children, rather it prepares them for education, and evidence of its working in Hungary, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, Taiwan and Korea suggests a low rate of disaffection in the later stages of formal primary education and a more comprehensive grasp of literacy and numeracy.
It is vital that primary and secondary education have the resources they need, since, unless our children are taught the basic educational and social skills during their formative years, monies spent on further education without that bedrock of learning will be wasted.
Liberals believe there should be an emphasis on numeracy and literacy in early learning years.
Liberals believe that there should be a legal maximum of thirty pupils per class.
Liberals believe that consultation with school students has been haphazard or neglected. One of the aims of a Liberal education policy is to give pupils more choice of subjects and of topics within subjects and at a younger age. Liberals therefore call for the establishment of elected student councils in secondary schools with rights to consultation on such matters as uniform, meals, start, finish and break times, and bullying.
Liberals believe that open access to further and higher education is a vital sign of a healthy society and that education should be a lifelong process and not regarded as being only for the young. Indeed, in the overwhelming majority of cases further and higher education is not seen by students as an optional extra but as vital in the achievement of their full potential.
To achieve these aims, Liberals call for:
We further believe that universities and other institutions of further education should work more closely together. Liberals would support a “Higher Education Council” to coordinate this activity, examine policy, commission studies and make proposals.
Liberals believe that the serious decline in students taking science and engineering courses is caused by social and economic factors outside education and, therefore, the problem can only be solved by improving the status, pay and working conditions of engineers and scientists.
We abhor the concept of student loans. Under the Liberal Party’s Tax Credit System students should receive an adequate income which should supersede both grants and loans. This income should be at least equal to the income that would be received by those registered unemployed, with the addition of a special allowance to cover the costs of study materials and transport. In particular we note the current lack of adequate support for part-time and disabled students. We favour a less rigid approach to post-16 education and training to allow for “time out”, and for the proper funding and provision of courses for the less academically able, the educationally disaffected, and for those who need alternative approaches to education and training.
Liberals believe that, as with medicine, the private sector has little relevance to most people but can be rendered redundant, not by crushing it with laws and tax penalties, but by bringing the public service up to a higher standard, as part of the local community that people would want their children to be part of. We do not, however, believe that private sector schools should be able to claim charitable status and that with the exception of schools which make no distinction on the grounds of ability to pay in their entrance policies, or those such as choir or special schools providing a service not available in the state sector, the ability of private sector schools to claim charitable status should be removed.
The school inspection processes should be the same for private education establishments as for LEA and Grant Maintained Schools.
The inherent values of a Liberal society are inimical to the privilege that private education seeks to buy.