The Conservative Party has made "misleading" claims about its education spending plans, while Labour risks introducing "unconscious bias" by pledging to abolish Sats, data experts have warned.
Independent analysis carried out exclusively for Tes by FFT Education Datalab has identified a number of issues with the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos ahead of next week's general election.
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Analysing each party's education promises, researcher Philip Nye found that some vital statistics are "misleading", while other pledges that have slipped under the radar could be very costly to deliver.
Election 2019: The Conservatives
Promise: "We are investing £14 billion over three years to increase funding for every primary and every secondary school pupil in the country."
Problem: "This is a misleading stat," Mr Nye says. "It adds up increases over three years. By 2022-23 they’d be putting £7.1 billion more into our schools, which would return schools' funding to 2009 levels – an effective 13-year real-terms freeze."
Promise: "In the last nine years, the percentage of children passing their primary reading check has gone up from 58 per cent to 82 per cent."
Problem: "This can't really be claimed as a success," Mr Nye warns. "The manifesto trumpets an increase in the proportion of 'children passing their primary reading check' from 58 per cent to 82 per cent. But this relates to the phonics test. 58 per cent of Year 1 pupils did indeed meet the expected standard in 2012 when the test was introduced, and 82 per cent did so this year – but you can expect rapid improvement in the first few years of new tests."
The Conservative Party has been approached for comment.
Promise: "Labour will end the ‘high stakes’ testing culture of schools by scrapping key stage 1 and 2 Sats and baseline assessments, and refocusing assessment on supporting pupil progress."
Problem: Mr Nye warns that we’ve had "little detail" on what would replace Sats. "If tests are replaced with teacher assessment then there’s a risk of unconscious bias. It’s also unclear what knock-on effect this policy would have on measuring progress during pupils’ secondary years," he says.
Promise: "We will take action to end ‘off-rolling’, removing the perverse incentives for schools to let pupils fall out of the system, by making schools accountable for the outcomes of pupils who leave their rolls."
Problem: Under Labour’s plan to end off-rolling, pupils could "still be encouraged out", Mr Nye says. "When Labour have talked about this previously they’ve said that schools wouldn’t be accountable for a pupil’s results if they found another permanent school place. But we prefer a system of accountability that takes into account the amount of time pupils spend on roll at a school. Under Labour’s plan, pupils could still be encouraged out and on to the roll of another school operating below capacity."
The Labour Party has been approached for comment.
Promise: "We will replace Ofsted with a new HM Inspector of Schools. Inspections should take place every three years and should consider a broader range of factors including the social and emotional development of children, and the wellbeing of staff and pupils. Independent schools should be subject to the same inspection regime."
Problem: If this really means that every school would be inspected every three years, it would potentially involve a "big increase" in cash being spent on inspection, Mr Nye says. "'Good' schools are currently only inspected every four years and at present 'outstanding' schools are exempt from routine inspection."
Promise: "We will invest to clear the backlog of repairs to school and college buildings so we have schools that are safe places to learn in."
Problem: Mr Nye warns that this would be a "major capital investment". "A 2017 publication from the National Audit Office put the cost of returning all school buildings to satisfactory or better condition at £6.7 billion, with a further £7.1 billion needed to get the condition from satisfactory to good, and those figures will only have gone up," he says.
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson and candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: “Liberal Democrats are more ambitious than ever for our children. But we know that a school’s entire work can’t be summarised by a one-word judgement at the top of an Ofsted report. We need to treat teachers as professionals, supporting them to succeed rather than trying to catch out weaknesses. That’s why we will replace Ofsted with a new schools watchdog.
"Borrowing from the best practice, we will continue to inspect schools regularly, but the stakes will be lowered. We will remove the overall inspection grade in favour of a report card approach and support schools to make lasting change.
“Our schools should be world-class, but years of under-investment and funding cuts have left our schools crumbling, with repairs being unaffordable. Children should not have to learn in Victorian conditions. That’s why Liberal Democrats would invest an extra £7 billion over five years in school and college infrastructure, creating new buildings and repairing existing ones.”