Election 2015: Childcare, funding and tuition fees are the main education issues at stake

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg helps children at a nursery school

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg helps children at a nursery school - Credit: PA

Here we look at the promises being made by each of the main politial parties in terms of education ahead of next week’s general election.

Ed Miliband reading to nursery children

Ed Miliband reading to nursery children - Credit: PA

Education has seen some of the coalition government’s most radical reforms. It massively expanded Labour’s academies programme and introduced free schools. It has put more emphasis on academic subjects, introduced a new national curriculum, reformed GCSE league tables, offered free school meals to infants, and trebled university tuition fees.

The reforms brought in by former education secretary Michael Gove form the backdrop to the debate about the next five years, and despite the controversy they provoked, the three main parties agree on much more than they disagree.

So far, childcare, funding and tuition fees have emerged as the main education issues.

Early years

Although 2010 was described as the Mumsnet election, this time around the three main parties are in a bidding war to win over young parents.

Currently, three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours a week of free childcare.

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The Conservatives have pledged to double this entitlement to 30 hours a week, while Labour said it would increase it to 25 hours a week.

The Liberal Democrats propose to extend the existing 15 hours of free childcare to all two-year-olds, and have a longer-term goal of increasing this to 20 hours.


Academies, which are accountable to the Department for Education rather than the local authority, and have more autonomy, are here to stay.

There are currently 91 in Norfolk, 65 in Suffolk, and 66 in Cambridgeshire. All but two of these converted to academy status after the 2010 general election, and most converted with minimal public opposition.

The Conservative manifesto promises to “turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy”, and open at least 500 new free schools during the next Parliament.

Labour would extend autonomy in the schools sector, by giving all schools the freedoms that only academies currently have.

The manifesto also promises to end the free schools programme, but “parents, teachers and entrepreneurs” would still be among

those able to bid to set up new schools, as well as “good local authorities”.

The Liberal Democrats promise to end the rule that new schools must be free schools, and, similarly to Labour, say it will only fund new state schools in areas where there is a shortage of places.

School fundings

All schools will face big cost rises from September, with pension and National Insurance contributions increasing, and some will also see their income cut because of falling rolls.

The independent Institute of Fiscal Studies has calculated that schools could face a real-terms 12pc cut in funding over the next five years, and last month the

National Union of Teachers backed a ballot on strike action if the next government does not increase schools funding.

The Conservatives have said the amount of money schools receive per pupil would be protected in cash terms, but not rise with inflation.

Labour has said the entire education budget, from early years to post-16 education, would rise with inflation, but analysts said this would leave schools facing a real-terms cut because it would not rise as more children entered the system.

The Liberal Democrats put a promise to protect the education budget, from early years to the age of 19, on the front page of their manifesto, and have since said this would be a “red line” for any post-election coalition.

Tuition fees

The coalition’s increase in maximum university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 has haunted the Liberal Democrats, who fought the 2010 on a promise to abolish them.

Labour, which originally introduced tuition fees under Tony Blair, is committed to cutting them from £9,000 to £6,000 a year.

The Conservative manifesto notes students do not have to pay towards tuition while studying, and only start paying back if they earn more than £21,000, and the party pledges to “ensure the continuing success and stability of these reforms”.

The Liberal Democrats will “establish a review of higher education finance within the next Parliament to consider any necessary reforms”, looking at participation of low-income groups, undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and examining living costs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Green Party

Integrate academies and free schools into the local authority system.

Abolish exams at the end of primary school, league tables, and the schools inspectorate Ofsted, and introduce the evaluation of schools by parents, teachers and the local community.

Remove charitable status from private schools, with a view to absorbing them into the state system.

Give the government a duty to provide an apprenticeship to all qualified young people aged 16 to 25 who want one.

Abolish university undergraduate tuition fees.

Liberal Democrats

Increase the number of teaching schools – centres of teaching excellence that provide support to other schools.

Extend free school meals to all children in primary education as resources allow.

Create an independent Educational Standards Authority that would be responsible for curriculum content and examination standards.

Aim to double the number of businesses which hire apprentices.

Ensure that all universities work to widen participation across the sector, prioritising early intervention in schools and colleges.


Create a vocational award for 16 to 18-year-olds to combine a qualification accredited by employers with a quality work placement.

Students to study English and maths up to the age of 18, and do work experience between the ages of 14 and 16.

Every teacher will need to gain qualified teacher status.

Create a new position of director of school standards to monitor performance of schools at a local level, and intervene in underperforming schools.Private schools must form “a meaningful partnership” with a school, or cluster of schools, in the state sector to receive business rate relief.


Children who do not reach the required standard in end-of-primary-school exams will resit them at the start of secondary school.

The English Baccalaurate – GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography – will become compulsory for high school pupils. An expectation that teachers will be trained in dealing with low-level classroom disruption.

Train an extra 17,500 maths and physics teachers over the next five years.

Continue to replace lower-level, classroom-based further education courses with high-quality apprenticeships that combine training with experience of work and a wage.


Cut paperwork for teachers, including overly detailed individual lesson plans, data collection, excessive internal assessments and dialogue-based marking schemes.

Aim to ultimately have a grammar school in every town, with transfer exams at ages 12, 13 and 16 to identify academic pupils who

develop at a slightly slower pace.

Introduce an option for students to take an apprenticeship qualification instead of four non-core GCSEs.

Not increase the level of undergraduate courses until there are sufficient vacancies in the economy to provide

at least two-thirds of students with skilled graduate jobs.