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The Conversation

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Welcome to The Conversation’s Manifesto Check, where academics subject each party’s election manifesto to unbiased, expert scrutiny. The result will be a complete guide to the factual accuracy and plausibility of policies relating to health, education, the economy, and more. Here is what our experts had to say about Labour’s top policies. Follow the links for further analysis.


Christine Merrell, Reader in Education, Durham University

Labour says it will “restore the role of Sure Start centres as family hubs”. It makes sense to provide the best possible care and educational opportunities in the early years of children’s lives, but do Sure Start centres represent the most effective method? And are they likely to contribute to closing the attainment gap seen between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more affluent environments?

Let’s take a look at recent experience. Following their election in 1997, Labour pledged to improve services, including educational provision, with the aim of reducing the impact of poverty and social deprivation in England. The Sure Start initiative was introduced.

The National Evaluation of Sure Start team did find some positive impacts on a range of factors including three-year-olds' personal and social development, but there has been criticism of the initiative. Early childhood education experts have stated that:

These interventions have been undertaken in a piecemeal fashion and so far have had only a very partial impact in breaking the link between poverty and poor educational attainment.

In 2011, I analysed the early reading and mathematics development of children starting school between 2001 and 2009, a period that included the introduction and embedding of Sure Start local programmes, and concluded that there were no significant changes.

Read more here.

Steve Higgins, Professor of Education at Durham University

Qualified teacher status will be compulsory again, with teachers able to gain “Master Teacher” status, but will also be required to keep their knowledge and skills up to date, presumably monitored by the new College of Teaching, which Labour also endorses. Teach First also gets a thumbs up, so presumably the diversity of routes into teaching will remain.

It looks like the National College for Teaching and Leadership is going to be rebranded as the School Leadership Institute, just how similar this will be to the former National College for School Leadership (or even the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services) has yet to be seen; how this will work with the new College of Teaching is unclear. Where will the responsibility for teacher recruitment lie? This will certainly be a challenging issue with increasing rolls and poor teacher retention.

This table tennis of reinstating policies and bodies may well be frustrating to the profession. We will see yet more sparkle with “gold-standard” headship qualifications, just so long as they don’t call it the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers (NPQH) which was (briefly) made mandatory in 2009.

Smaller class sizes, always popular with parents, are assured, with a cap at 30 re-introduced for five to seven year olds, but no acknowledgement that smaller classes are a poor investment in most circumstances in England. Evidence-based policy may face something of a threat.

Read more here.


Maria Goddard, Professor of Health Economics at University of York

No party will go into the election suggesting that the NHS should receive less government funding given the increasing demands on the NHS and the size of the projected funding gap. The challenge is how much extra is “enough” and on what will it be spent. The Labour strategy targets investment towards increasing staff numbers in order to allow more time"time to care" – in particular nurses, GPs, midwives and home-care workers. The NHS employs 1.2 million people in full-time employment and although overall staff numbers have increased in most years over the past decade, the biggest growth has been in consultants. Meanwhile GPs and nurses have seen more modest growth.

Given that recent concerns have focused on the safety implications of staffing levels, particularly in relation to hospital nurses; and as the extra demand faced by accident and emergency departments has at least, in part, been blamed on lack of access to GPs, these plans may help improve access and quality. However, the devil will be in the detail if these investments are to pay off in the longer term.

Many of the policies are as expected – reducing the role of private finance and private companies in favour of the NHS, focusing on prevention and lifestyle issues, viewing integrated care as the future for organisation of services, investing in more front-line staff. There are however, a few things mentioned that are a little more surprising. For instance, creating a Cancer Treatments Fund for patients to have access to the latest drugs and treatments seems to be reinventing the heavily criticised Cancer Drugs Fund.

Around patient safety and quality, the Labour proposals suffer from being too vague. However, some could have significant implications depending on how they are implemented. For instance, making every hospital death the subject of an “appropriate level of review”, seems fine in principle but could imply substantial bureaucracy in practice. Another example is modernising the regulation of healthcare professions, which omits to mention the important issue of which professions the party is actually talking about. Past experience suggests that for some parts of the profession, this could take a lot longer to negotiate than even several Labour governments could manage.

Read more here.


Hilary Steedman, Senior Research Associate at London School of Economics and Political Science

We must applaud Labour’s commitment to apprenticeships with real value, which are regarded as equivalent to A-level, and can lead to degree-level study in the form of a Technical Degree. But in making these promises, Labour has kicked away the bottom rungs of the ladder of opportunity to gain a worthwhile occupational skill, which all young people should be able to access.

Labour will continue the coalition government’s policy of giving employers more control over apprenticeship funding and standards. This is sensible, but not without its challenges. Small employers, who provide the most apprenticeship places, have made it clear that they do not want control over funding and the increased complex accountability that entails.

Labour will use changes to government funding rules to try to wean English employers away from their preference for training their own older employees and calling them apprentices, rather than taking on young people. This will be difficult, but – as the Business, Innovation and Skills Commons Select Committee has shown – will provide better value for for government money. If Labour could join their policies up and make some bolder promises on apprenticeships, we could look forward to benefits for the country and for all young people.

Read more here.

EU relations

Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs, King’s College London

The Labour manifesto sets out several ambitions with regard to the EU. First, a clear preference for membership. The case the party makes is largely, though not exclusively, economic. The manifesto argues that more than three million UK jobs are “linked to trade with the European Union”. This is convincing to a point. Certainly, the figure tallies with one produced back in 2000, when a South Bank University report estimated some 3,445,000 jobs in the UK “depend on exports to the EU”. The problem is that no one can know how many of these jobs would disappear in the event that the UK left the union.

The issue here is what EU buffs now refer to as “the counter factual”. What would be the alternative to membership? If Britain negotiated a deal similar to that enjoyed by Norway, then exports might continue pretty much as they are. If, however, Brexit involved exclusion from the single market, the impact on jobs, and on the economy as a whole would, according to most economic studies, be far more serious.

The other part of the case for membership appears in the preceding part of the manifesto dealing with “global challenges”. Here the Labour Party stresses the important role the EU has played in dealing with external threats to Europe from its immediate neighbourhood. There is no easy way to assess this claim, but existing evidence from students of foreign policy strongly suggests that, for all their shortcomings, EU sanctions imposed in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine have been far more effective than anything individual member states could have achieved.

Above and beyond a defence of membership, the manifesto makes little in the way of pledges about policy towards the EU. There is a vague promise to impose budget discipline on EU spending - but 28 member states are involved in budget negotiations, and one country’s waste is another’s vital interest.

Read more here.

Stay tuned for more to come on the economy and immigration.

Maria Goddard receives research funding from the Department of Health and NIHR. The Centre of which she is Director receives research funding from a variety of sources

Anand Menon receives funding from the ESRC, but this article does not represent the views of the Research Councils.

Christine Merrell receives funding from Esme Fairbairn Foundation. For the research investigating standards over time in reading and mathematics by Tymms and Merrell in 2007, which was published as part of the Cambridge Primary Review, the authors received an honorarium of £1,000, which was paid to the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University.

Durham University received funding from the Sutton Trust to produce the Pupil Premium Toolkit. This has subsequently been developed into an online resource, the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, by the Education Endowment Foundation who provide funding to Durham University to support a research review and analysis team, led by Steve Higgins. He has also led and managed projects where Durham University has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Department for Education and the National College for Teaching & Leadership.

Hilary Steedman does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/manifesto-check-experts-on-key-labour-policies-40108

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