During a visit to his old secondary school Haverstock in north London, Labour leader Ed Miliband set out his plans for education and said that spending on schools would rise at least as much as inflation.
Mr Miliband said, ‘I can announce that the next Labour government will ensure that spending on our schools rises by as at least as much as inflation. In other words, it will be protected in real terms. And we will go further. Because all of us know that the success of our children depends so much on the first steps children take in the early years and the further education they go on to.’
Labour would also protect the Early Intervention Grant funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres and the Pupil Premium.
Class sizes in infant schools would also be capped so that they do not take more than 30 pupils for more than a year.
According to Labour, the number of five-, six- and seven-year-olds taught in classes bigger than 30 has risen by more than 60,000.
The party says the increase in class sizes has been caused in part by the Government approving the creation of new free schools in areas of surplus places, a practice it would end.
Alongside this, Labour would make every school ‘locally accountable’ to a new director of standards, and give all head teachers the freedoms currently available to those running academies.
A Labour government would also ensure that all teachers were highly-qualified and create a Master Teacher status and a College of Teaching, he said, as well as encouraging back into the profession 200,000 teacher who have left.
Early years organisations and unions welcomed the plans.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘The first five years of a child’s life are vital to their long-term learning and development, and so it’s crucial that when we talk about giving children the best start in life, we recognise that this means more than just statutory schooling. As such, we warmly welcome Labour’s pledge to protect the entire education budget, including the early years, in real terms.’
But he stressed the ‘significant under-funding’ in the early years sector meant that ‘protecting the early years budget against future cuts, while positive, is only one piece of the puzzle – existing funding shortfalls must also be addressed as a matter of priority if we are to ensure the provision of high-quality early years services in the long term.’
His concerns were echoed by Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association. She said, 'We would always want funding to increase with inflation but this does not address the more fundamental issue of years of funding shortfalls in the early years sector. We want to see a major review of the levels of funding offered and the way money is distributed. At the moment, paying parents are ending up subsidising free places for two, three and four-year-olds in our nurseries because the money that the government provides falls short of the actual cost of delivery by an average of £800 per child, per year.'
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said, ‘The free schools programme would, effectively, end under a Labour government. A return to national planning of school places is plain common sense – because it makes no sense, in times of austerity, to waste money building free schools which are not needed.
‘Schools and colleges will not achieve the ambitious goals, rightly set for them, without adequate funding. Labour has recognised this need. Ed Miliband’s very important, and significant, pledge to protect education funding in real terms, including early years and further education, is a highly significant and important commitment to all children and young people.’
The union also backed plans for ‘a new Standards Challenge’ to raise standards in every school, based on the previous Labour Government’s London Schools Challenge.
This would make every school locally accountable to new directors of standards and give every head teacher the same power as in academies.
‘Ed Miliband has committed Labour to ensuring that all pupils and students receive a broad and balanced curriculum, taught by qualified teachers. This is a bold pledge given the looming teacher recruitment, and current teacher retention crisis and will be the major challenge to any future government. Teaching should be a career that is highly sought after and highly valued. We are a long way from this at present.’