Today’s Labour party manifesto has probably been the most hotly-anticipated manifesto launch of the past decade. The party has made a number of bold education and skills announcements over the past couple of years, but the policy detail has been thin so far. So what have we learnt from today’s launch, and has the manifesto added meat to the bones of Labour’s plans to improve educational opportunities?

Building upon the party’s Opportunity Mission, it’s really encouraging to see so much emphasis on the need to improve opportunities for all, regardless of people’s background, with the manifesto stating:

“We are a country where who your parents are – and how much money they have – too often counts for more than your effort and enterprise. Too many people see success as something that happens to others. This is an appalling waste of talent as well as a huge injustice. So, breaking the pernicious link between background and success will be a defining mission for Labour.”

Linked to this, it’s also positive to see the party reiterate its commitment to enact the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act 2010. This will provide a clear mandate for emphasising the importance of socio-economic background, alongside age, sex, race, religion and disability – and could catalyse real change within government bodies, whilst also pushing other organisations to take action on socio-economic diversity.

However, although the document itself includes lots of positive hints about the general policy direction of a Labour government, it remains light on specific measures.

Early years

 It appears that Labour have committed to broadly continuing with the Government’s expanded childcare offer, alongside the party’s commitment to open an additional 3,000 nurseries through upgrading space in primary schools, which was announced over the weekend.

It’s disappointing to see no indication that the party will address current inequalities in access to high quality early years education. Just 20% of families in the bottom third of the earnings distribution are eligible for the existing offer of 30 hours of early education and childcare for three- and four-year-olds, and all parents in full-time education or training are ineligible. The ongoing expansion to younger age groups will extend this inequality. In our policy briefing Inequality in early years education, we recommended that, if an hours-based system is retained long-term, the next government should equalise access and guarantee a core entitlement of 20-30 hours per week for all children, irrespective of their family’s working status or income level. Priority should be given to providing this for all three- and four-year-olds, followed by two-year-olds.

Nonetheless, there are positive indications that early years education will be further developed in the years ahead, with a commitment to improve the quality of maths provision across nurseries and primary schools. This focus on early education is important, as we know that it’s at this early part of a child’s life that gaps in attainment start to appear. However, the overall lack of detail on early years policy means we’re still left to await the outcome of Labour’s ongoing Bell Review, which at present has no clear timeline for publication.


We’re all well-versed in Labour’s plan to end VAT exemption and business rates relief for private schools to fund investment in state schools, and there were certainly no surprises today for the future direction of schools policy. The party’s plans to recruit 6,500 teachers, if realised, will go part of the way to tackling the sector’s recruitment crisis, with a positive commitment to support areas and subjects where shortages are most acute. School leaders may perhaps be a little disappointed not to find out more about how this recruitment will be achieved, given existing challenges in the teacher recruitment market.

The promise of delivering breakfast clubs in all primary schools will help to address the impact that rising child poverty is having on learning, but hunger doesn’t stop at age 11 and our research has shown that increasing numbers of pupils are going to school hungry and skipping lunch at secondaries too. The Sutton Trust has recommended that free school meal eligibility is widened to all those children living in households receiving Universal Credit.

More broadly, Labour’s commitment to develop an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty is very welcome, and we have been making the case for a national plan for this. Teachers are increasingly on the front line in dealing with child poverty. Until it’s seriously tackled, and ideally eradicated, we will continue to see its impacts on education. Other specific measures, such as a desire to “bring down the cost of school uniforms by limiting the number of branded items of uniform and PE kit that schools can require” could also help to address the cost of sending kids to school.

There are also welcome signs that schools admissions processes will be tackled, to “account for the needs of communities,” although the precise meaning remains unclear. We believe that the socio-economic mix in schools should form part of this approach. Our research has shown that there are 155 comprehensives which are more socially selective than the average grammar school, with a 40% shortfall of free school meals pupils at the highest attaining comprehensive schools compared to the average. That’s why we’ve been working with school leaders across the country to help make schools admissions.

Labour has also committed to funding evidence-based early-language interventions in primary schools – although at £5m the impact of this is likely to be limited.

Crucially, there is no clear plan here for closing the school attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, which has been one of the most damaging education legacies of the pandemic. In our briefing for closing the attainment gap, we called for a package of measures including rebalancing the National Funding Formula back towards the most disadvantaged communities, reversing the real terms erosion of Pupil Premium, and investing in tutoring for the long-term, none of which are featured in Labour’s manifesto. The next government will need to urgently flesh out a plan to deal with the growing attainment gap if it wants to make a dent in this problem in the next five years.

Skills and Higher education

Given the economic disruption faced by the UK in recent years, there’s a considerable emphasis on boosting growth in the manifesto. There are a few references to ambitions for training and skills as part of this approach, with a recommitment to guaranteeing two weeks’ worth of work experience for every young person, which the Sutton Trust has previously called for, and improving careers advice in schools and colleges. However, one striking omission from the manifesto is any mention of banning unpaid internships, which had been included in the Opportunity Mission. Unpaid internships are a major barrier to those from poorer backgrounds to access leading careers – it’s important that Labour stands by their earlier commitment to ban them.

The establishment of the new ‘Skills England’ body, as well as tying skills into broader industrial strategy has clear potential. But it must also be required to consider the needs of young learners, and tackling barriers to training opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Likewise, the long-discussed plan to change the apprenticeship levy into a Growth and Skills Levy will no doubt be welcomed by employers who will appreciate the flexibility. But there is a danger that flexibility could come at the expense of growing the number of high-quality apprenticeship provision opportunities, and may actually reduce them if funding that is currently ring-fenced is used instead for staff Learning and Development.

Perhaps the most disappointing section of the manifesto is on higher education, with very brief references to HE access, and no specific reference to student maintenance support beyond vague commitments such as “we will work with universities to deliver for students and our economy.”

Our research has shown that financial support for students is woefully inadequate, with the poorest students graduating with the highest levels of debt, and the average student spending £11,400 on essentials alone. That’s why we’ve been proposing a package of cost-neutral measures including reintroducing the maintenance grant for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, and increasing the overall level of support available. Unless the next government addresses this unfair system, we will continue to see more students skipping meals and taking on extra paid work at the expense of their studies, to try to make ends meet.

Overall, there’s lots in this manifesto to welcome and the party’s ambitions are right, but there are several core issues where Labour have not laid out plans, and there are still significant question marks over the tangible policy agenda for the next parliament. Assuming Labour do win the keys to Downing Street, all eyes will be on the content of the King’s Speech and the first education policy consultations to get a sense of Labour’s detailed plans and most urgent priorities. The wait for policy clarity continues.













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