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Put Children First

Liberal Democrats have always put education at the heart of our agenda. Education opens the mind, it fosters understanding and tolerance, and it empowers our children and our communities. We believe every child deserves a great start in life so they are equipped to shape their own future, and are determined to make sure that the education system finds and unleashes the best in everyone. This is essential in order to break down the unfair divisions in our society, to ensure a productive, competitive economy and to overcome intolerance.

Too many people have their chances in life determined by who their parents are rather than by their own efforts and abilities. With our Pupil Premium, investing in children who might otherwise fall behind, we are finally beginning to tackle the scandalous gap in attainment between rich and poor. But now the Conservatives want to take us back 50 years, to an outdated system of grammar schools and secondary moderns, ignoring all the research and expert advice that show it will damage the life chances of so many children.

Liberal Democrats recognise the dual role of education in giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to be part of a productive, competitive economy, and helping them grow into happy, healthy and engaged members of their community. Children's education is too often distorted by schools' need to focus on the next set of league tables and the next inspection. Teachers deserve to be treated as professionals and given the flexibility and support to apply their expertise. Schools should be free to encourage children to participate in a truly rounded curriculum including the arts, sport and culture that broaden children's learning and develop their passion for education.

Our priorities in the next parliament will be:

3.1 Stop the education cuts - fair funding for every school

Schools in England are facing an unprecedented funding crisis, with rising pupil numbers and an inadequate financial settlement meaning that real-terms perpupil funding is being squeezed. At the same time the Conservatives' flawed approach to the National Fair Funding Formula means some schools will lose out even more. Liberal Democrats believe every child deserves a high-quality education, wherever they live. We will:

3.2 Quality really counts in early years

Investing in high-quality early years education has a huge impact on children's attainment as they enter school. Our most vulnerable children have the most to gain from excellent early years settings, with partnerships with parents a key component. We will:

3.3 Teachers - our biggest asset in education

Too many good teachers are leaving the profession - in many cases because of the excessive pressure they are under from heavy workloads and funding cuts. We want to empower teachers and make sure they feel valued for the essential work they do. We want to improve the status of the teaching profession, and support and nurture teachers in their work - helping to drive up standards in every school. We will:

3.4 Driving up school standards

Far too many children are still failing to get the opportunities they need. We cannot fail our children - especially when we know it is the children who need the most help who are the most likely to be let down. The Conservatives' obsession with more grammar schools is not the answer. Liberal Democrats want to give every child the chance of attending an excellent local school. We will:

3.5 Curriculum and qualifications

We want schools to have flexibility, but we also believe that parents and children need to know that the curriculum in every school will cover the essentials, and that teachers will be skilled educators who know how to inspire a love of learning. Education should equip children with rich knowledge for life, nurturing creativity and problem-solving, and instilling a passion for lifelong learning. Children should be helped to develop the life skills they will need as adults, and every pupil should be given advice and guidance about their future. We will:

3.6 Getting children and families ready to learn

England's young people are some of the unhappiest and most anxious in the world. Schools are on the front line in dealing with children and young adults with mental health issues. We also know that children cannot learn properly if they are undernourished.

Parents are under huge pressure and receive little support even though home is the biggest influence on children's learning. Liberal Democrats believe that parents need to be properly empowered and supported with the tools they need to raise the next generation, and involved in the running of their children's schools. We will:

3.7 A world-class university sector, open to all

The ability of universities to attract funding to maintain top-quality research activity and deliver the best teaching depends on being open and outward looking. The ability to attract and retain the best staff and students in our world-class universities is vital. Brexit undermines these at every turn.

In government, Liberal Democrats established a fairer system such that no undergraduate student in England had to pay a penny of their tuition fees up front or pay anything afterwards until they earn more than £21,000 per year. This meant that only high-earning graduates would pay their tuition fees in full, and eliminated systematic discrimination against part-time students. We now have the highest university application rates ever, including from disadvantaged students. But the Conservatives are threatening to undermine opportunity by ending student bursaries, freezing the repayment threshold and raising the level of fees. We will:

3.8 Lifelong opportunities to learn

We need to grow the country's skills base, especially in the technologies and industries that are most important to Britain's economic future. We want it to become the norm for businesses to take on and train up young people as apprentices in every sector of our economy, and for higher-level apprenticeships to be understood as a respected alternative to university education.

As our economy rapidly changes the need for people to retrain and reskill has never been more important. It is no longer the case that the skills learned at 18 or 21 will last throughout a career. The ability to learn new skills or change careers is also vital in creating the opportunity for people to succeed no matter their stage in life. That's why Liberal Democrats support the need for lifelong learning. We will: