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Home » Education, Policy

Flying the Liberal Democrat’s flagship education policy

Submitted by on 22 Nov 2010 – 15:10

By Sarah Teather, Minister of State, Children & Families, Department for Education

I came into politics to make a difference for the most disadvantaged in our society. It is over three years since I, as Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, championed the Pupil Premium as our flagship education policy and debated it at Conference. I never dared imagine a time when I would be unveiling it as Government policy and then actually implementing it. But in July, the Coalition Government announced that a Pupil Premium, funded from outside the schools budget, will be introduced next September. It will mean that from next year, schools taking disadvantaged children will get the additional money they need to provide them with the extra support they deserve, no matter where they are in the country.  This could mean more individual tuition or catch-up classes, but it will be for the school to decide, we won’t be telling headteachers how to spend the money.

This is a real Liberal Democrat achievement. It was the centrepiece of our education policy during the election campaign, and it is now being implemented in Government.  While the Conservatives had a similar policy, it was the Liberal Democrats who pushed for it to be funded from outside the schools budget, and for it to feature specifically in the coalition agreement. And it’s no secret that it was one of the sticking points of the negotiations with Labour – they simply refused to agree to it. I find this shocking – a policy designed to support the most vulnerable in our society and give them the chances that other children have – rejected by the Labour Party. If any of us ever needed another example of Labour’s complete failure to represent the poorest, and the emptiness of their rhetoric, this is it. Make no mistake, it is the Liberal Democrats who are now the party for the most disadvantaged, championing policies like the Pupil Premium in opposition, placing them at the heart of our manifesto, and making them happen in government.

Liberal Democrats are committed to the Pupil Premium because we understand that education can be a key driver of social mobility. But it is shameful that we still have an education system which too often perpetuates inequality rather than tackles it.  The poorest children are only half as likely to leave school with 5 good GCSEs than their better-off classmates.  The Pupil Premium will help in tackling Labour’s failure to break the link between social background and performance at school, opening up opportunities for children regardless of where they are born.

Outside the glare of the public spotlight, in my role as Minister for Children and Families, I am also leading many other changes that the Liberal Democrats have fought for as part of our pledge to make sure every child gets a fair start in life. In the first few weeks of the new government we started to review the Early Years Foundation Stage, committed ourselves to a Green Paper in the autumn with changes to make the system for children with Special Educational Needs fairer, extended free childcare and begun to consider how to tackle the commercialisation of children. I am working with Ministers across Government to deliver on the Coalition’s commitment to end child poverty in the UK by 2020, and am part of the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Childhood and Families – focused on removing the barriers to a stable and secure family life for families of all shapes and sizes.

There is no doubt that these are difficult times to be in Government.

The financial legacy left by Labour means that we will simply not be able to afford to do all the things we would like to do. But I am clear, by being in Government and working hard, the Liberal Democrats can make a real difference.

I want Britain to be a fairer, more liberal place. For the first time in generations, the Liberal Democrats are now making real progress towards achieving this goal.