Secret School: Costly manifesto policies to cure all ills will deter party’s voters in droves

Jeremy Corby visits Scarborough. .pic Richard Ponter 171801p
Jeremy Corby visits Scarborough. .pic Richard Ponter 171801p

The Secret School is taking a look at the manifestos of the main parties and how they could affect education in the city. Today it’s the turn of the Labour Party. Remember the old saying - if something is too good to be true, then it probably is? Many people will look at the Labour Party’s education policy and come to that exact conclusion; it must be too good to be true.

Policymakers at the Labour headquarters sat down to plan the future of education in this country and came up with such an idealised, perfect series of policies they arouse suspicion in as many people as they enthuse.

Reversing the funding gap, scrapping university tuition fees, reintroducing maintenance grants for higher education students, introducing free school dinners for all primary school children, transitioning to a graduate workforce in nurseries. All are admirable policies when taken individually, but taken together – along with even more attractive policies in other areas – they amount to a cocktail of pledges that could potentially disappoint on two fronts.

Firstly, there are so many big promises to improve education in so many key areas that it will be almost impossible to deliver them all in five years, especially when you add in the myriad of other high-profile pledges Jeremy Corbyn has made. Civil servants will have a huge job on if they are to tick off every promise that has been made in two terms.

And although talk of the last Labour government bankrupting the country are ludicrous in the light of the global banking crisis, the education pledges in this manifesto do add up to a princely sum. The proposed education spend will be too much for many to stomach.

The policies add up to a huge amount of money because the party has pledged to give teachers and students everything they’ve dreamed of in one go. I’m surprised there’s not a plan to put a tooth fairy in every primary school, a wizard in each secondary and have new state schools made out of candy.

But this is no fairytale manifesto. It’s the real deal, and whether we believe the polls or not, the policies appear to have been hugely popular and struck a chord with many voters. Make no mistake – these policies are exactly what education in this country desperately needs.

At the heart of Labour’s manifesto, the most important pledge is to reverse Tory spending cuts, introduce a new funding formula and make sure no school in the country loses out as a result of the proposed funding changes set to bust budgets in the coming years.

There’s also a commitment to school buildings, promising that repairs will take place, new buildings will be given the green light and asbestos ripped out of the schools it still dogs. For most headteachers in Sheffield schools, I would imagine those pledges are enough. It would mean billions of extra pounds being ploughed into education and a lot of the pressure taken off governing bodies currently discussing where to cut resources and make staff redundant.

But Corbyn isn’t one for just making tiny steps; he ambitiously wants to do it all at once. And so the Labour train doesn’t just stop there, it goes much further. Corbyn would do well to remember, though, that to make any changes to education he must first gain power. And in this country, power is not gained by saying you’re going to throw money at every problem. On the contrary, it will put a lot of voters off and mean Corbyn is without the power to do even the basics.

Introducing free school meals for every child up to the age of 11 is a waste of money. Scrapping university tuition fees and introducing maintenance grants in one swoop is similarly plagued with problems. If the voting age was 16, it could sweep Corbyn to power - but it’s not. Sadly, middle-class baby boomers concerned about their pension policies are not going to buy it – they’re too concerned about the cost.

The policies proposed in the Labour manifesto are just what education in the UK needs. The cost of introducing it all at once may put off swathes of voters Corbyn desperately needs.