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How to prepare for Labour’s approach to education

February 21st 2024

Labour’s approach to education is firmly focussed on addressing the missions set out by Keir Starmer, particularly those around the economy, getting Britain building again and breaking down barriers to opportunity. Labour views the education system as crucial to ensuring people have the right skills to help rebuild the economy.

Make no mistake, a potential incoming Labour Government would make major reforms to the education system, the largest shift in education policy since Gove’s interventions.

Labour has set out the most detail on its plans for childcare, schools, and skills reform, with the strength of the party’s relationship with teaching unions evident in the policy platform, and to date the party has shared less detail on its plans for Higher Education.


Schools and Early Years

When it comes to schools, an incoming Labour government is committed to establishing a ‘broader and richer’ curriculum, with a strong core of literacy and numeracy alongside a renewed focus on sports, arts, digital skills, speaking and listening skills. Labour would look to recruit 6,500 more teachers, ensure all new teachers are qualified and put in place a Teacher Training Entitlement. In relation to quality and assessment, one-word Ofsted judgements would be replaced by report cards with annual checks on safeguarding and attendance, regional teams would be established to drive better outcomes and multi-academy trusts would be inspected as well as schools. A new national voice would be established for school support staff. Meanwhile, employability would be supported by students being given improved careers guidance and two weeks of work experience. The Party’s position on VAT for private school fees is already having an impact on how this part of the sector organises itself. Labour has a commitment to increasing standards in early education, setting up more breakfast clubs, providing more mental health support in schools and improving how data is used to pick up special educational needs and disabilities.

The influence of teachers, Labour’s heartland supporters, can be seen in this agenda. The party’s strong focus on education is likely to benefit Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidates at the next election, given Lodestone’s Election Hub and MRP data highlight the importance of this issue in many of the key constituencies Labour would need to win.

There are a number of issues where Labour has not yet defined its approach such as EdTech, tackling historic education PFI projects coming to an end, international schools and some elements of the culture wars. For those looking to reshape the policy platform, or influence the areas that are yet to be defined, it is advisable to explain how your approach would help Labour tackle its national missions.

Further Education, Higher Education & Lifelong Learning

In FE and lifelong learning, Labour is committed to providing retraining and up-skilling which is locally based and tailored to the needs of the community. Setting up Technical Excellence Colleges across the UK would play a part in the goal of providing the skills local businesses need, along with the establishment of a new body to help coordinate skills policy, Skills England. The apprenticeship levy would be transformed into a Growth and Skills levy to give employers more flexibility to train their workforce in new and relevant skills.

In practice, will this mean clean energy companies will be able to ensure people who live close to their sites have the relevant skills needed to deliver their projects? Labour has every intention of ensuring this is the case – as highlighted by the Party’s recent announcements on long-term partnership with business at the Labour Business Conference - but those with an interest in this area should engage closely with the party to ensure the detail of the plans is operationally viable for business and will help you achieve your goals.

In Higher Education, Labour have made efforts to highlight their support for the sector with Matt Western MP, Shadow Minister for Higher Education saying, “Universities are immensely valuable for our individual and collective prosperity” and “we want to create a thriving Higher Education sector in Britain”. He has also highlighted that he recognises the role universities can play in achieving the national missions set out by Keir Starmer. However, he has also spoken about the challenges facing the sector, such as demographic changes with increasing numbers of 18-year-olds set to apply to university, and the sector should not make the mistake of assuming that a potential incoming Labour government would not be critical of some of its activities or seek to make changes.

Labour has committed to a full review of how tertiary education works and Western has highlighted his interest in The Welsh Commission for Tertiary Education and Research, allowing students greater flexibility to move between institutions and courses as they up-skill. Any incoming Labour government would likely be looking for more flexibility of this kind, from the Higher Education sector, in order to achieve the national missions. The party has also been positive about partnerships between businesses and education providers, the Civic University Network, and the work of universities to respond to the needs of their local communities and again is likely to welcome initiatives of this kind. The party has touched on the importance of the role of universities in driving innovation in Labour’s Start Ups Review. While the policy detail on the role of universities in innovation has not been set out in full detail as of yet, the party is highly likely to welcome policy ideas and initiatives that support this agenda.

Much has been made of Labour’s current plan to reform tuition fees without increasing government spending, involving a month-on-month tax cut for graduates. Labour has also committed to resetting the regulatory relationship with Higher Education providers with a greater emphasis on collaboration. In both these cases, the full details of how this would work haven’t been shared yet. In addition to this, there are a number of policy areas within Higher Education where Labour have not shared detailed policy positions as of yet – from the use of AI in institutions to the future of the Research Excellence Framework and from international students to research funding and beyond. While this is likely to be as Higher Education is less of a vote winner and more controversial than schools policy, these policy gaps can be viewed as opportunities to influence for those with an interest.

Key Takeout: While Labour has made positive signals about many sections of the education system, those seeking to influence policy should not be complacent in assuming Labour will fully back their approach. It is advisable to frame your advocacy around how it will support the achievement of the national missions set out by Keir Starmer, for the good of the nation and society as a whole. Using the Lodestone Compass, our three-step strategic process, we can support you in: 1. reviewing how your approach relates to Labour’s policy positions, 2. achieving strategic re-alignment by identifying opportunities to re-shape messaging to be more closely aligned with the party’s agenda and 3. through activation, supporting you to navigate a course to success. Please get in touch if you would like to talk through how we can support you to achieve your organisation’s goals.