As the annual conferences of the major political parties kick off, DYT’s Policy Executive, Dan Baynes looks at what the education sector can expect from the opposition parties in the first of our series of blogs during party conference season.

Parliament has closed its doors. MPs, activists, journos and lobbyists alike are gearing up for a month’s worth of speeches, media speculation and… parties. Conference season is back and whilst Brexit is likely to dominate much of the efforts and rhetoric, it is a good time to analyse where the main parties stand on educational policy.

Last year’s conferences saw Justine Greening announce a £12 million network of English hubs to improve early language and literacy, whilst Angela Rayner introduced a 10-point charter to set out the principles of Labour’s National Education Service.

 So, what will 2018 bring?

We have already had a flavour courtesy of the Liberal Democrats who kicked things off last weekend in Brighton.  Back in March the party voted to support a policy document called “Every Child Empowered”  which included a full two pages on SEND policy – including a new approach to accountability and ensuring that Local Authorities were supported to offer specialist support services.

Lib Dem Education Spokesperson and former primary school teacher, Layla Moran (hotly tipped to be in the race for a future party leadership contest) reiterated much of what has already been set out in this document in her speech. This included the eye-catching stance that Ofsted should be abolished and that grammar schools, “are in effect state sponsored segregation.” Elsewhere, in the speech Moran committed the party to significant investment into SEND provision – she said that “many schools do not have the special needs provision that parents can believe in” and to “bring a costed package of proposals to bring provision to every school in line with that of the very best.”

Next to Liverpool…  (Labour Party Conference 23-26 September) 

Where I will be traveling up to on Saturday to challenge Labour’s potential policy makers with DYT’s positions on behalf of young people with literacy difficulties. The education community will be keen to hear more about the National Education Service which has become one of the key pillars of Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as opposition leader. Thus far we have heard a lot about the vision behind the principle (“cradle to grave” education) and the structures that make up our system (schools should be “democratically accountable”).

What I’d like to see is a bit more ‘meat on the bone’ about how our schools – and, especially, learners with literacy difficulties – would benefit from a “NES” from Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner. We may have an update from the “roadshow consultation” that the party ran over the summer, identifying themes and developing specific policies that a Labour government would enact.

In DYT’s response to the NES consultation, we welcomed the vision of the party, however, we call on the charter and specific policies that follow to strongly commit to supporting learners with literacy difficulties and developing an inclusive approach throughout our education system.

Rayner has achieved some big political wins in recent weeks, the government has scrapped a £20 million scheme to provide free transport to grammar schools and she has held Ministers’ feet to the fire over funding cuts and oversized primary school classes. Furthermore, Labour has just announced a new policy to make schools accountable for off-rolled pupils. She may grasp this momentum to announce radical change for schools, but I think it will be more likely that the NES will remain an overarching message to support Labour’s criticism of the government’s approach to funding and academisation.

In Part 2 we look ahead to what to expect from Conservative party conference which our Director of Operations, Karen Wespieser, will be attending at the end of the month.