Demos’ response to Education, Apprenticeships, Extremism and Integration pledges in the Conservative Party Manifesto

Integration and extremism

A new strategy to bolster integration is encouraging when the risks of division in society are growing. In particular, giving due primacy to teaching English to those who need it has the potential to radically improve cohesion and the life chances of some of society’s most marginalised, following years of cuts to Esol classes. Equally positive, of course, is the launching of a Commission for Countering Extremism, given the heightened security threats we face. However, it is vital that the two approaches complement one another but do not draw too closely together (released, as they are, almost in the same breath in May’s manifesto). While acknowledging there is a relationship between poor integration outcomes and radicalisation, for too long mistrust has been sewn in communities through integration strategies that are too heavily linked to countering violent extremism. Integration must also be promoted as an end in itself – something for all Britons to support through their commitment to the shared responsibilities of citizenship and community.

Education policy

While not new, the announcement of expanding grammar schools undoubtedly forms an emotive plank of May’s ‘Great Meritocacy’. With evidence showing some pupils will do better, some worse, than they otherwise would, grammar schools promote a very particular view of social mobility – prioritising the opportunities of some individuals, while running counter to efforts to truly lift communities.

While less ambitious than the other party manifestos, the £4bn injection of cash into schools will bring some respite in a tough financial climate and time of biting efficiency savings. Given the Conservatives’ rejection of universal meals at schools, somewhat baffling is the decision to hinge this funding on measures such as replacing universal lunches with breakfasts – showing a heavy streak of pragmatism over principle.

Apprenticeships

Improving the quality of technical and vocational education rightly has an important place in the manifesto, with the Conservatives reiterating commitments around new qualifications, new institutions (including with links to HE), and ambitious targets on apprenticeship starts. The UCAS-style portal for technical education is a nice touch. However, rather than creating much sought-after simplicity in the technical/vocational system, the danger at the moment is adding greater complexity for young learners, as the details of T-levels, their relationship with apprenticeships, and proliferation of longer-term routes and opportunities, continues to emerge.