Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘NHS for education’ pledges the move towards a Nationalised Education Service (NES), the aim of which is to implement ‘cradle-to-grave’ learning based on the principle that ‘Every Child – and Adult Matters.’ Whilst the NES would primarily intend to extend childcare provisions and programmes such as Sure Start, it also pledges to introduce free, lifelong education in Further Education colleges. It would also enable access to re-training opportunities for adults who have lost their jobs through redundancy in the face of current austerity cuts. A two per cent increase in corporation tax (with remissions for businesses offering meaningful training programmes themselves) is the current funding plan for these advancements in mature education.
In theory, the establishment of an NES would help to overcome issues facing state schools in the UK. Focusing on the development of comprehensives, rather than the return of grammar schools that May’s government is currently controversially funding, would help bridge the gap between disadvantaged children as well as fostering talents of the academically able. To further goals to improve children’s mental health and pupil support networks, a total budget of £140 million is promised. While some of this will be paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees, how such an increase in resources will come into fruition has yet to be clarified.
The grand finale of Corbyn’s manifesto is a pledge to abolish university tuition fees, the first step towards this being a replacement of upfront course fees with a fair funding scheme that allows everyone to reach their full potential, regardless of their socio-economic background. Furthering centralised financial support would provide those from disadvantaged backgrounds with better access to education. Furthermore, the restoration of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), should encourage more sixteen to eighteen-year-olds to get the qualifications required to go on to higher education, creating a fairer playing field for those applying to university.
Whilst cost should never be a barrier to participation, the consequence of a centralised education system is that universities would lose their autonomy. With the NES would come an erosion of university standards and standings around the world, therefore putting international funding at risk. The majority of university funding does not come from the state (neither should it); if the primary aim of the NES is a development in literacy rates across the board, then a prioritisation of funding of primary and secondary schools, as well as FE colleges, must ensue.
An NES is as much about social justice as social mobility. It’s not just about getting working-class students into university, but about an education system that allows everyone to reach their full potential. As it stands, a general election is not due for another few years, allowing Labour the time to develop a more realistic and stable plan that would enable their pledge for a National Education System to transcend short-term political gimmicks, gaining economic and practical credibility.
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