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MS 8: The National Education Service

Dorothy Dean

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Mr Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to present this statement on the National Education Service. Under successive Conservative governments, we have seen the chronic underfunding of our education system. Provision has, historically, been opaque and challenging to navigate. This Government is determined to change that.

Despite the ever-growing need for quality childcare, free at the point of use, previous governments have refused to streamline the process, leaving many parents not claiming the free childcare to which they are entitled. 

Demand for free childcare continues to climb, Mr Speaker, and without significant investment in the system, there will not be enough supply to meet that demand. In addition, this Government will extend the 30 free hours to all two-year-olds, move towards making some childcare available for one-year-olds, and extend maternity pay to 12 months. 

The National Education Service will transform the current, bloated, disjointed system into a streamlined system which is easy to navigate, and delivers for every young person - from cradle to college.

Mr Speaker, it is not just in these areas that young people have been poorly served by the previous, successive Conservative administrations. Sure Start was one of our party’s greatest achievements, and its chronic underfunding and, in some cases, total defunding has led to a generation of vulnerable, hard-to-reach young people being forgotten and left by the wayside. From here, from now, there will not be another Sure Start closure in Britain. 

Childcare, though it is the first step on the road to a cradle-to-grave National Education Service, is not the only area in which this Government will revolutionise early years education. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Mr Speaker, I must return to the effects of underfunding on the education system. 

Britain is one of the richest nations in the world, and to see our children bear the brunt of ideological austerity has been one of the greatest failures of successive Conservative governments. Class sizes are up, and standards are down. Teachers are being forced to purchase materials for their own classrooms. Britain’s young people are being let down. Under this Government, we will reverse this near-decade of educational decline.

The basis of primary and secondary education in British education under this Government, Mr Speaker, will be formed on four founding principles: investment, quality, accountability, and inclusion. 

Schools will be adequately funded and resourced, and we will, throughout this Parliament, begin to reverse the Tory cuts to education.

Standards will be driven up across the board, with initiatives akin to the London Challenge of 2003. 

All schools will be democratically accountable, and we will introduce joined-up admissions policies across every school in each local authority to ensure that all young people have a place within their local education infrastructure. 

The education system at large will be individualised and will respect the choices of young people with a wide range of courses both academic and vocational. In addition to this, further funding will be made available to close the attainment gap between children from different backgrounds.

Further to this, Mr Speaker, I have a few key announcements pertaining to primary and secondary education.

Under this Government, there will be no new free schools, no new grammar schools, and no schools will be forcibly converted to academy status. 

Class sizes will, by the end of this Parliament, be under 30 for every primary school. 

In the next Budget, we will introduce free school meals for every primary school student, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees.

In the coming weeks, I will be launching a commission to investigate the way in which students are tested in primary school, with a view to expanding this commission’s scope to explore the testing in secondary schools before the end of this parliament.

This Government, Mr Speaker, will not be complacent about the education of tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, and teachers. Our young people are, and always have been, this nation’s greatest asset, and we will give them the support and the resources that they require to succeed.

The Tories have waxed lyrical for the last seven years about being the party of investment in our future, and yet we’ve seen funding for FE colleges ruthlessly cut, and entitlements for adult learners exponentially reduced. 

We’ve seen top-down reorganisation after top-down reorganisation, and the sector remains in crisis with students and staff in permanent limbo, waiting to see which new sticking plaster the Tories will place over the gaping hole left by ever-increasing funding cuts. This Government says “enough.” 

The plans of the previous government to open new technical colleges are now cancelled, and the funding will be redirected into the FE sector: new courses, new teachers, and a new lease of life for a sector that has languished in austerity for far too long.

In addition to this, we will restore the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16-18 year-olds from lower and middle-income backgrounds, and bring funding for 16 to 18-year-olds in line with Key Stage 4 baselines, while ensuring that the budget is distributed fairly between colleges and sixth forms.

However, it has always been my belief that education is not just for the young, nor is it something you can ever be done with. Under this Government, every day is a school day. Through the course of this Parliament, we will introduce free, lifelong education in Further Education (FE) colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in life.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I’d like to come to Higher Education. No frills or rhetorical flourishes are required here. Over the course of this Parliament, there will be two major changes to HE. Firstly, maintenance grants will be re-introduced, and secondly, tuition fees will be abolished. No ifs, no buts: education will always be free under this Government.

The Chancellor will, at the Budget next week, set out the details and the costings for various provisions that are laid out in this statement, but our overarching intention will always remain the same. Cradle-to-grave education, free at the point of use, adequately funded and resourced, and with the long-term future of Britain at its forefront - that is the spirit in which these policy decisions, and the overarching idea of the National Education Service, was formed. Britain’s future is in the hands of its young, and it’s time politicians stopped treating them as an afterthought. I commend this statement to the House.

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Dorothy Dean, Labour MP for Islington South & Finsbury (1987-present)

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