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A Liberal Party Policy Statement

 

Education

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:

  1. a) the differing advantages of small and large schools can be brought together by structuring the system to provide schools organised on a collegiate basis, with the aim of sharing facilities and providing a wider range of courses, in particular the utilisation of new technology;
  2. b) many areas have diverse needs and cultures and there are many poor and disadvantaged communities requiring additional help to ensure they receive a fair education;
  3. c) while Liberals support an education system developed along comprehensive lines, the local community must be left to decide what sort of schools are best for them, and the mix of subjects to be taught.
  4. d) small community schools, with relevant shared resources, are preferable to large impersonal institutions;

Local Management of Schools (LMS)

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:

  1. a capital investment programme to address the issue of old and neglected buildings;
  2. returning responsibility for the staffing structure and pay scales, but not recruitment, to local education authorities;
  3. the introduction of management training programmes for teachers and governors, sourced at local level to enable schools to choose courses appropriate to their particular needs;
  4. the removal of the element of competition between schools which works through the use of a funding formula related to pupil numbers.

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.

The National Curriculum, Ofsted and SATS

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.

  1. the National Curriculum should be replaced with a framework on which local authorities and schools can build to best meet the needs of the pupils within their jurisdiction;
  2. older pupils should be offered a wider choice of subjects and choice from a greater diversity of topics within subjects;
  3. testing should be reduced to a necessary minimum in order to remove unnecessary pressure on pupils and staff and to reduce the current waste of time and resources on such testing;
  4. the whole package of Ofsted, Sats and “league tables” should be abolished forthwith;
  5. there must be greater involvement of teaching staff, governors, parents and the local community in the planning and delivery of a curriculum which is relevant to the needs of the children, and in the actual management of schools;

Teachers

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.

Nursery schools

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.

Pre School Education

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.

Primary and Secondary education

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.

Further and Higher education

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:

  1. the restoration of student grants to a basic “living wage” level;
  2. the adoption throughout the UK of a “credit accumulation” scheme, similar to that which applies in Scotland, so that it is possible for those whose studies are interrupted to continue them later, not necessarily at the same institution;
  3. more access courses for those who lack the standard entry qualifications;
  4. more use of modular degree course structures which allow students a greater choice and assist those who find new areas of interest after they have enrolled on a course;
  5. incentives and encouragement for businesses to contribute the time of some of their experienced and qualified staff to provide adult and further education classes;
  6. enhancement of the facilities and resources of the new universities created in 1992 from former polytechnics;
  7. increased government funding for the Open University, Open Tech and the University of the Third Age;
  8. tertiary education available for all 16-19 year olds, including vocational, technical and academic courses, which would provide a sound base for either future employment or entry into higher and further education.
  9. a two year training allowance and entitlement should accompany young people entering employment at the age of 16, 17 or 18 years;
  10. the idea of a National Grid for Learning, using modern technology to make information resources accessible to all, should be progressed;
  11. “learning accounts”, under the control of the individual but with contributions also from the government and employers, are an exciting innovation;
  12. local employers should be encouraged to contribute (including financially) to adult and further education where this can be done without compromise to educational objectives;

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.

The needs of Students

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.

Private schools

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.

 

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