Whilst picking up a cold drink during leafletting in Tunbridge Wells on Friday, I was approached by a local Pembury resident. “Who do I complain to about the Liberal Democrats’ ridiculous policy on class sizes?” he asked. I wasn’t fully aware of this policy, so I did some checking on the LibDems website – it appears that in the second year of a Liberal Democrat government, they plan to reduce primary class sizes to twenty, and secondary school class sizes to around sixteen pupils. This will apparently be achieved through a ‘Pupil Premium’, topping up the normal annual per-pupil Government settlement to around £2500, a level which the LibDems claim is the level of a private school, although I don’t know what private schools the LibDems have found at that level of fees.
Costing a total of £2.5bn, the Pupil Premium will apparently allow not only for the reduction of class sizes; it will also allow for one-to-one tuition and ‘catch up classes’.
On the surface this might seem like a vote-winner – who wouldn’t want their child to have that little extra help at school? But take a good look at the policy. Firstly, it will only be paid to those pupils who receive free school meals. What does that have to do with academic attainment? There are plenty of less well off children whose grades are excellent, as there are many children whose families are financially successful who simply fall behind in class. Of course, in some cases this premise will be absolutely correct, but to link the concept of poverty entirely with academic achievement is missing the point.
Secondly, the cash pot of £2.5bn will come from, you guessed it, yet more savings made from cutting back bureaucracy in Government. This is by no means a ‘guaranteed’ funding stream.
And lastly, decreasing class sizes will logically call for more classrooms, therefore bigger schools. Where’s the capital to pay for this? And where’s the land to build these larger buildings on? And, at a time when the Labour government have been having to offer golden handshakes to encourage people to join the teaching profession, where would a Liberal Democrat find an extra 38,000 teachers, which is what the policy would apparently need?
Once again, this is an interesting policy but half thought through, devoid of detail and adequate, sustainable funding, like so many of the Liberal Democrat’s ‘new’ ideas.