National elections in the UK significantly impact the education system, determining policies, funding, and priorities for schools and universities. Each major political party—Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrats—offers distinct education reform plans that influence everything from school funding to teacher recruitment and mental health support. This article dives into how national elections effect education in the UK and what changes might be on the horizon based on the upcoming election results.

Key Takeaways

  • Each major political party in the UK has distinct education policies, with Labour focusing on public education funding and teacher support, Conservatives prioritizing improved standards and learning outcomes, and Liberal Democrats advocating for increased per-pupil funding and exam reforms.

  • School funding remains a critical issue with different strategies proposed by the parties, highlighting the need for sustainable and equitable financial systems to handle rising costs and fluctuating pupil numbers.

  • Teacher pay, workload, and retention remain significant concerns, with ongoing disputes and proposed reforms aimed at reducing workload, increasing pay, and improving working conditions to support teacher well-being and the overall quality of education.

Education Priorities of Major Political Parties

Illustration of political party logos

The upcoming general election is set to be a significant turning point for the UK’s education system. The ‘time for a change’ mood in the country is palpable, and education policies are likely to be a key flashpoint in the upcoming election. Each of the major parties—Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrats—has laid out distinct visions for the future of education. These visions not only reveal their priorities but also highlight the areas they believe need the most attention and reform.

Labour, for instance, is committed to ending tax breaks for private schools and has pledged significant funding initiatives for public education, including free primary breakfast clubs. The Conservative Party, on the other hand, aims to improve educational standards with a focus on enhancing the quality of teaching and learning outcomes. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats propose to increase per-pupil funding, extend the pupil premium, and provide free school meals.

Subsequent sections will provide a detailed examination of each party’s unique policies and proposals. Grasping these plans is vital because they will dictate the next government’s priorities and directions., impacting everything from school funding to teacher recruitment and mental health support in schools.

Labour Party

The Labour Party’s education policies reflect a commitment to:

  • Significantly boost public education funding

  • Improve the working life of teachers

  • Recruit 6,500 new teachers, particularly in shortage subjects

  • Provide £210 million for teacher continuing professional development (CPD)

This move aims to address the chronic teacher shortages that many schools face, particularly in the South East and other high-demand areas.

Labour’s education plans include:

  • Offering £2,400 retention payments for teachers who complete the two-year early career framework, to improve teacher retention and reduce turnover

  • Concentrating on both recruitment and retention to cultivate a stable and seasoned teaching workforce

  • Providing access to counsellors for all pupils to enhance mental health support in schools, addressing the growing mental health crisis among young people.

In terms of curriculum and assessment, Labour plans to:

  • Introduce a comprehensive review involving school staff and parents

  • Replace single-word Ofsted inspections with detailed report cards to better communicate school performance

  • Develop a more inclusive and precise assessment system that mirrors schools’ actual performance and needs by incorporating a wider variety of stakeholders in these reviews.

Conservative Party

The Conservative Party’s education policies focus on:

  • Improving educational standards and the UK’s performance in international assessments like the PISA rankings

  • Enhancing the quality of teaching and learning outcomes across the board

  • Targeted reforms aimed at bolstering the core competencies of students

  • Ensuring that schools can deliver high-quality education consistently

Improving the UK’s PISA rankings is a key priority for the Conservatives. They are of the opinion that adherence to rigorous academic standards and accountability can uplift the country’s education system to a level where it can compete globally. The party’s focus on standards and outcomes implies a perpetuation of policies that give precedence to quantifiable enhancements in student performance.

Liberal Democrats and Other Parties

The Liberal Democrats have put forward a comprehensive set of proposals aimed at increasing per-pupil funding and reforming the current exam system to make it more inclusive and fair. They plan to extend the pupil premium and provide free school meals, ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, have access to nutritious meals and the necessary resources to succeed academically. Additionally, they propose spending £390 million a year on tutoring, which could help bridge learning gaps and support disadvantaged students.

Substantial modifications to the examination system constitute a key aspect of the Liberal Democrats’ educational policy. Their goal is to render the assessment system more inclusive, guaranteeing that it accurately represents every student’s abilities and potential. This includes:

  • Overhauling inspections

  • Overhauling curriculum frameworks

  • Better supporting diverse learning needs

  • Reducing the pressure on students and teachers alike

Other political parties, such as the Green Party and Reform UK, also have distinct education priorities. The Green Party emphasizes sustainability and environmental education, integrating these themes into the national curriculum. Reform UK focuses on reducing bureaucracy and giving more autonomy to schools. These varied approaches highlight the diverse perspectives on how best to improve the UK’s education system and cater to the needs of all students.

School Funding and Government Spending

Illustration of fluctuating school funding

School funding remains a prominent issue in election campaigns, with major parties proposing different funding strategies. Since the last general election, school funding in England has increased by around £6 billion, delivering a 10% real-terms increase in spending per pupil. Notwithstanding this increase, school budgets continue to face substantial strain, driven by factors such as teacher and support staff pay, rising food costs, and energy bills. These financial challenges highlight the need for a sustainable and equitable funding system to support schools effectively.

Total capital spending on education in England for 2023–24 includes:

  • £1.8 billion earmarked for school maintenance and repair

  • £900 million allocated for Free Schools

  • £900 million for rebuilding further education colleges

  • Approximately £3.5 billion designated for new schools and other aspects

These investments are vital to guarantee that the school infrastructure can meet present and future requirements.

The main pressures on school budgets include:

  • Rapid increases in costs from teacher and support staff pay

  • Food costs

  • Energy bills

  • Rising costs of special educational needs provision

  • Changes from a growing pupil population to a period of falling pupil rolls

These factors demand meticulous planning and strategic allocation of funds to ensure the uninterrupted provision of high-quality education in schools.

In the past decade, there have been substantial variations in school spending per pupil. In England, the total school spending per pupil experienced a 9% decline in real terms between 2009–10 and 2019–20. This decrease reflects a significant change in educational investment over the decade. This decline resulted in many schools struggling to maintain the quality of education and resources needed to support effective teaching and learning.

Some key points to note are:

  • The number of teaching assistants in state-funded schools has grown from about 220,000 in 2011 to 280,000 in 2022, reflecting efforts to support classroom teaching amidst funding challenges.

  • The decline in school spending per pupil has had a negative impact on the quality of education and resources available in schools.

  • This issue needs to be addressed to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education.

Teachers have expressed frustration over insufficient funding and resources, which they believe hinder effective teaching and learning. This sentiment underscores the significance of sufficient funding in ensuring schools can provide the necessary support for both students and staff. Historical trends in school funding underscore the need for a robust and sustainable funding system that can adjust to shifting demands and pressures.

The real-terms fluctuations in school spending per pupil over the past decade have had a profound impact on the education system. As we progress, it is pivotal to glean insights from these trends and devise future funding strategies that bolster long-term stability and growth in the education sector.

Future Projections

Looking ahead, future projections for school funding indicate potential changes based on pupil numbers, teacher pay, and special educational needs funding. In 2024–25, school spending per pupil is projected to be over 5% higher in real terms compared to the levels in 2010–11. This increase signifies substantial growth in education funding during this period. This increase reflects ongoing efforts to address funding gaps and support the growing demands of the education system. Since the last general election, there has been a 10% real-terms increase in spending per pupil, underscoring the substantial investment made in recent years.

The government projects that pupil numbers will decrease by more than 5–6% between 2024–25 and 2028–29. This could result in reduced spending needs and pressures. This anticipated decline in pupil numbers could present an opportunity to reallocate resources and focus on improving the quality of education and support services.

Labour’s proposed policy to add a 20% value-added tax (VAT) to private school fees aims to generate approximately £1.6 billion annually to fund state schools. Labour also plans to end tax breaks for private schools, using the funds raised to pay for 6,500 more state school teachers.

The Liberal Democrats plan to extend the pupil premium to better support disadvantaged students and increase funding for free school meals. These future projections highlight the significance of strategic funding decisions in ensuring that schools can cater to the ever-changing needs of students and staff.

Teacher Pay and Working Conditions

Illustration of teacher's workload

Teacher pay and working conditions are paramount concerns for the UK’s education system. The current average teacher pay in England is around £43,000, with starting salaries at £30,000,. However, many teachers believe that these figures do not adequately reflect the demands and pressures of the teaching profession. Education secretary Gillian Keegan’s promise to reveal the teacher pay offer earlier this year has been delayed due to the election purdah period.

A significant portion of teachers report the following issues:

  • An increase in workload since the start of the academic year, with 72% identifying this as a major issue

  • Ofsted is seen as the biggest driver of workload, according to 60% of teachers

  • Only 10% of teachers rate their working hours as manageable

These findings highlight the urgent need for reforms to reduce workload and improve working conditions.

It’s imperative to address these concerns for the future of the teaching profession. Political parties have proposed various solutions to tackle these issues, aiming to create a more supportive and sustainable working environment for teachers. By focusing on both pay and working conditions, these proposals seek to enhance the overall quality of education and support the well-being of teachers.

Pay Disputes and Settlements

Pay disputes and settlements have been a recurrent issue in the education sector, often driven by funding challenges related to staffing and support for pupils. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) is consulting members for potential industrial action over pay and working conditions. This highlights the ongoing dissatisfaction among teachers and the need for effective solutions to address these issues.

Political parties have proposed various solutions to mitigate the underlying causes of pay disputes. These proposals aim to provide more funding for schools, improve teacher pay, and create a more supportive working environment. By addressing the root causes of these disputes, the parties hope to foster a more stable and motivated teaching workforce.

Workload and Retention Strategies

Managing teacher workload and improving retention are critical issues that need immediate attention. According to reports, 27% of teachers said their workload had stayed the same since the start of the academic year, while 20.9% of teachers reported working 60-69 hours per week during term time,. These excessive working hours are unsustainable and contribute significantly to teacher burnout and turnover.

A staggering 89% of teachers believe the Government is not doing enough to address excessive workload. Teachers have voiced their frustration over the stagnant progress on workload, working hours, and pay, emphasizing the need for more efficient and immediate interventions. Improved recruitment and retention strategies, including better training entitlements and bursary reviews, are essential to building a more resilient and satisfied teaching workforce.

Sector leaders highlight the need for high-quality teacher training and development to ensure a skilled and effective education workforce. Addressing workforce pressures, such as recruitment and retention of teachers, is a top priority for education sector leaders. By implementing comprehensive strategies to manage workload and support professional development, the education system can better retain its teachers and improve overall educational outcomes.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

Illustration of children with special educational needs

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are areas that urgently require policy attention and investment. The number of pupils with Education, Health, and Care Plans (EHCPs) has risen significantly, increasing by 62% from 2015-16 to 2022-23. This surge in demand has placed immense pressure on the SEND funding system, exacerbating existing financial gaps and challenges.

Karen and David Fox highlight the lack of awareness of the amount of funding needed for building special schools or providing existing schools with specialist SEND provision. The inconsistency in support for children with special educational needs and disabilities remains a significant concern among education sector leaders. Ensuring adequate funding and resources for SEND provision is crucial to meeting the needs of these students and supporting their educational journey.

Subsequent sections will delve into the current challenges facing SEND provision and the proposed solutions to address these issues. Understanding these dynamics is essential for creating an inclusive and supportive education system that caters to all students.

Current Challenges in SEND

The challenges currently plaguing SEND provision are multifaceted and complex. The high-needs budget, which funds education for pupils with the highest needs, has increased by 41% in real terms from 2015 to 2023. Despite this increase, councils often face significant pressure to find additional funding from other budgets to meet the growing costs of high-needs provision, leading some to run large deficits.

There are persistent funding gaps in the SEND system, exacerbated by rising demand for EHCPs. Over 1.6 million pupils in England have special educational needs (SEN) as of 2024, an increase of 101,000 from the previous year. The percentage of pupils with SEN support but without an EHC plan has also increased, reflecting the growing need for specialized support.

The current provision for SEND is struggling to meet the needs of a growing number of pupils, creating a strain on resources. Schools with SEN units receive funding of £6,000 or £10,000 per place, plus top-up funding for additional costs of support required by individual pupils. Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated effort to ensure that all students receive the support they need to thrive.

Proposed Solutions

Addressing the challenges facing SEND provision necessitates sustained investment in specialist SEND provision. The improvement plan for SEND includes testing and reviewing new proposals to enhance support for children with special educational needs. By focusing on feedback-driven changes and refining the SEND system, the government aims to create a more effective and responsive support network for these students.

The proposed solutions emphasize the importance of involving stakeholders, including parents, educators, and local authorities, in the decision-making process. This collaborative approach ensures that the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities are met comprehensively and sustainably. With the right investment and policy direction, the education system can better support these students and provide them with the opportunities they deserve.

Impact on Private Schools

Private schools may experience significant changes depending on the outcomes of the national elections. Election results can influence financial policies for private schools, including modifications to tax reliefs and subsidies. Currently, private schools in the UK are exempt from VAT under the Finance Act of 1972, but Labour plans to change this.

Subsequent sections will examine how proposed changes to tax breaks, financial policies, and regulatory changes could influence private schools. These changes have the potential to alter the financial landscape for private schools significantly, affecting their operations and fee structures.

Tax Breaks and Financial Policies

Tax breaks and financial policies for private schools are subject to political party proposals and potential VAT changes. The Labour Party has suggested:

  • Eliminating tax exemptions for private schools

  • Using the resulting revenue to boost teacher numbers and provide support for underprivileged students

  • This could potentially raise school spending in England by 2%

  • This proposal aims to make education funding fairer by reallocating resources towards state schools.

Labour’s plan to introduce VAT on independent school fees has received attention and support from both liberal and conservative figures. The introduction of VAT on private school fees is intended to raise roughly £1.5 billion annually, which Labour plans to use to pay for 6,500 more state school teachers. However, some opponents argue that imposing VAT on private schools may force a migration of students to state schools, potentially increasing class sizes and financial strain on the state education system.

The Conservative Party, often associated with a conservative government, supports maintaining tax breaks for private schools, arguing that they alleviate the burden on state education. This ongoing debate highlights the differing perspectives on how best to fund and support the education system.

Regulatory Changes

Regulatory changes may impact private schools’ operations and registered details. Independent schools in the UK must obtain approval from the Secretary of State before making significant changes to their registered details, such as the age range of pupils or boarding provisions. New regulations implemented in November 2023 require independent schools to wait up to 6 months to receive approval for material changes.

These regulatory changes could impact the flexibility and responsiveness of private schools, affecting their ability to:

  • Adapt to changing demands and requirements

  • Implement innovative teaching methods

  • Offer specialized programs and services

  • Attract and retain qualified teachers and staff

  • Maintain financial stability

Understanding these regulations is crucial for private schools to navigate the evolving landscape and continue providing high-quality education.

Mental Health Support in Schools

Illustration of mental health support in schools

Mental health support in schools is a priority for various political parties, with proposals focusing on expanding services and funding. The rise in mental health problems among young people is significant, with probable mental disorders among 17- to 19-year-olds increasing from 10% in 2017 to 26% in 2022. Educational settings have a significant influence on children and young people and are well-placed to support their mental health.

Mental health support in schools is crucial as it can prevent future mental ill-health and represents good value for money. By investing in mental health services, schools can provide the necessary support to students, helping them to thrive academically and personally. Subsequent sections will delve into the current state of mental health services in schools and the different political parties’ proposals to enhance these services.

Current State of Mental Health Services

The current state of mental health services in schools highlights the growing prevalence of mental health difficulties among young people. In 2023, around one in every five children and young people aged 8-25 had a mental health difficulty. Children with a mental health difficulty were less likely to feel safe, be themselves, and enjoy learning at school. This underscores the importance of providing adequate mental health support in educational settings.

The number of pupils with the highest levels of special educational needs, indicated by an EHCP, has more than doubled for conditions like autism, speech and language needs, and social, emotional, and mental health needs since 2015. Preventative mental health measures in schools include expanding mental health support teams to all schools and colleges by 2030. These measures are essential for addressing the growing mental health crisis among young people.

Organizations like the Centre for Mental Health and the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition have long been calling for the roll-out of early support hubs. While the Government’s current investment in early support hubs is welcome, a commitment to a full national roll-out in every local area is required to meet the needs of all students.

Party Proposals

Various political parties have proposed several plans to enhance mental health support in schools. The Conservative Party proposes expanding mental health support teams to 100% of schools and colleges in England by 2030. This expansion aims to ensure that all students have access to the mental health support they need, regardless of their location.

The Labour Party suggests implementing specialist mental health counsellors in schools. Labour’s plan to provide access to specialist mental health professionals in every school has been highlighted as a key priority by sector leaders. This proposal aims to address the growing mental health needs of students and provide timely support.

The Liberal Democrats advocate for specialist mental health staff and counsellors in schools. The Green Party and Plaid Cymru also support having specialist mental health counsellors in schools. These proposals highlight the critical importance of mental health support in schools and the need for comprehensive policies to address this issue.

What Educators and Sector Leaders Say

Educators and sector leaders emphasize the need for adequate funding, competitive teacher pay, and manageable workloads. They stress that these elements are crucial for delivering quality education and supporting the well-being of teachers and students alike. Adequate funding is essential to ensure that schools can provide the necessary resources and support for both staff and students.

One major issue raised by the executive head teacher at St Paul’s Church of England Primary School is the need for more funding for staffing and supporting pupils and their families. Ongoing absences, teachers striking, and funding issues are significant challenges faced by St Paul’s Church of England Primary School, as highlighted by teacher James Johnson. These challenges underscore the importance of addressing funding gaps and ensuring that schools have the resources they need to operate effectively.

Sector leaders believe that universities should focus on what the next government is likely to want to achieve and the practical things they can do to support those aspirations. By aligning their goals with government priorities, universities can better support the broader education system and contribute to achieving national education objectives.

Teacher Opinions

Teacher opinions on party policies and voting intentions provide valuable insights into the profession’s preferences. Labour’s pledges on mental health were found to be the most popular among the teaching profession, according to a Teacher Tapp poll. The poll results indicate a strong level of support for Labour’s initiatives in this area. Open-access mental health hubs in every community were the most popular pledge, highlighting the importance of mental health support for teachers and students alike.

Survey data on how teachers plan to vote and their views on party policies provide a deeper understanding of the profession’s priorities and concerns. These insights are essential for shaping policies that address the needs of teachers and support the overall health of the education system.

Sector Leader Insights

Sector leaders stress the importance of their input for shaping effective education policies. High on their list of concerns is school funding, which they argue has been inadequate and inconsistent. They emphasize the need for competitive salaries and manageable workloads to attract and retain quality teachers.

Sector leaders recommend that the next government prioritize increased and consistent school funding to address ongoing financial struggles. They also suggest implementing policies aimed at improving teacher retention by enhancing pay and reducing workloads. Their insights are crucial for developing policies that support the education sector and ensure its long-term sustainability.

Local Authorities and Education

Local authorities play a pivotal role in disbursing and monitoring funding for primary schools and ensuring an adequate supply of high-quality school places. They are responsible for coordinating school admissions, allocating available places, and ensuring that schools maintain standards.

By leveraging local knowledge, local authorities can:

  • Deliver public services effectively

  • Support the education system

  • Be the direct employers of staff in community and voluntary controlled schools

  • Have attendance and advisory rights in the employment and dismissal of school staff

  • Be responsible for the educational achievement of children in their care

  • Oversee the allocation of funding to schools to ensure equitable resource distribution.

Their role is vital in maintaining the quality and accessibility of education. Subsequent sections will examine the current role of local authorities in the education system and the potential changes that could ensue post-election. Understanding these dynamics is essential for appreciating the impact of local authorities on education and the potential shifts that could arise from electoral outcomes.

Current Role of Local Authorities

Local authorities are pivotal in maintaining the operational framework of education within their jurisdictions. They have several key responsibilities:

  • They are the direct employers of staff in community and voluntary controlled schools

  • They wield significant influence over employment and dismissal processes

  • They hold responsibility for the educational outcomes of children under their care, ensuring that all students have access to quality education.

Beyond employment, local authorities are tasked with:

  • Providing school places

  • Managing admissions

  • Maintaining educational standards

  • Overseeing the allocation of funding to schools

  • Ensuring that resources are distributed equitably

  • Providing financial support to schools

This role is crucial for maintaining a balanced and responsive education system that can adapt to the needs of its students and staff.

Potential Changes Post-Election

The outcome of the general election could significantly influence the balance of power between central government and local authorities regarding education funding and governance. Potential changes could include a shift towards more devolved powers and place-based budgets, giving local authorities greater autonomy in managing and distributing resources. This could lead to more tailored and locally responsive education systems that better meet the needs of their communities.

Post-election outcomes could also herald shifts in policy direction, impacting how local authorities interact with schools and the central government. Such changes could enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of local governance in education, ensuring that resources are utilized in the most impactful ways.

The incoming government will play a crucial role in determining the extent of these changes and the future landscape of local authority involvement in education.


National elections in the UK hold substantial implications for the education sector, with major political parties proposing varied approaches to address funding, teacher pay, mental health support, and more. Labour’s focus on ending tax breaks for private schools and increasing public education funding contrasts with the Conservatives’ emphasis on improving educational standards and PISA rankings. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats advocate for increased per-pupil funding and exam reforms, highlighting the diverse priorities across the political spectrum.

School funding remains a critical issue, with historical trends showing fluctuations in spending per pupil and future projections indicating potential changes based on pupil numbers and other factors. Teacher pay and working conditions continue to be areas of concern, with political proposals aiming to address workload and retention challenges. Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) require significant investment and policy attention, as rising demand places pressure on existing resources.

Higher education policies, mental health support in schools, and the impact on private schools also reflect the broad range of issues at stake in the upcoming election. Local authorities play a crucial role in the education system, and potential changes post-election could alter their responsibilities and influence. As we move forward, it is essential to stay informed about these developments and advocate for policies that support the needs of students, teachers, and schools.

Frequently Asked Questions

How will Labour’s proposed education policies impact public schools?

Labour’s proposed education policies will have a significant impact on public schools by increasing funding, introducing free primary breakfast clubs, recruiting new teachers, enhancing mental health support, and conducting a curriculum and assessment review. These measures are aimed at improving the overall quality of education in public schools.

What are the key education priorities of the Conservative Party?

The key education priorities of the Conservative Party include improving educational standards, increasing the UK’s PISA rankings, and enhancing the quality of teaching and learning outcomes through targeted educational reforms.

How do the Liberal Democrats plan to support disadvantaged students?

The Liberal Democrats plan to support disadvantaged students by increasing per-pupil funding, extending the pupil premium, providing free school meals, and investing in tutoring programs, aiming to spend £390 million annually on the initiative.

What challenges do Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) face in the current education system?

The current education system faces challenges in meeting the increasing demand for EHCPs and financial pressures on local authorities, leading to persistent funding gaps and struggling provision to meet the needs of a growing number of pupils. This creates obstacles for students with SEND.

How might the role of local authorities in education change post-election?

Local authorities in education may see a shift towards more devolved powers and place-based budgets post-election, potentially leading to greater autonomy and locally responsive education systems.

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