Manifesto Check: Lib Dems lack vision on early years and primary education

Primary colours. Dominic Lipinski/PA

There is at least one societal aim that has universal agreement: the idea that education should be of the highest quality, and that children and young people should learn and develop well.

This is addressed in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto pledges to improve early years education and teaching. What few details the Lib Dems give of their plans for early years and primary education are broadly to be welcomed.

They include a welcome commitment to the recruitment of more well-qualified early years teachers, and a plan to make sure that by 2020, “every formal early years setting employs at least one person who holds an Early Years Teacher qualification”.

But the only example they give of an organisation to “work with” on this is Teach First. If we believe that rigorous evidence and scholarship should be the basis for effective teaching and learning, the most appropriate organisations to highlight first and foremost are university education departments. In partnership with schools, education departments combine the best practical and theoretical knowledge for teaching and learning.

The Lib Dems’ pledge for more teachers with Early Years Qualified Status would have been more credible had universities been placed centre-stage as part of a drive towards evidence-based teacher education and development.

Meanwhile, one of the disappointments of all the parties’ manifestos has been their lack of vision for early years and primary curricula, in particular the urgent need for improvements to the national curriculum and its assessment in England. The Lib Dem manifesto proposal for curriculum is really “more of the same”, particularly in its idea of yet another “slimmed-down core national curriculum”.

A much bolder vision for England’s national curriculum is needed – and it needs to treat early years and primary education as a developmental continuum (as they do in Scotland), and less as distinct phases.

The Conversation’s Manifesto Check deploys academic expertise to scrutinise the parties’ plans.