Every single person should have the chance to fulfil their potential. That’s why I became a teacher, and why education is at the forefront of my 9-point vision for a fairer, more liberal Britain. We simply cannot build hope or equity unless everyone can access a high quality education that meets their lifelong needs (rather than the latest ministerial whim). Tragically, however, access is not equal – as Liberal Democrats have long recognised, and as the coronavirus crisis has made even more painfully clear.
Teachers have worked heroically to provide workable online lessons, while parents have done their best to help their children adapt and learn. But despite these efforts, the playing field has been far from level for Britain’s children. Through no fault of their own, poorer families have often been less able to provide the devices, decent internet access and working space that distance learning depends on. Their children have fallen even further behind – making the existing disadvantage gap even wider.
Throughout the pandemic (and before it) I have rigorously challenged the Conservatives on this educational inequality, but it is clear they do not care. In Scotland, the SNP’s shambolic handling of this year’s grades has entrenched disadvantage, down-grading the results of children in poorer postcodes far more harshly than those elsewhere. It is hard to imagine Westminster’s Conservative government being any less discriminatory with GCSEs, or tomorrow’s A-level results.
By contrast, in Wales, Lib Dem education minister Kirsty Williams has massively expanded support for disadvantaged students in recent years. Our party “gets” this need: pupil premium was our achievement. To truly equalise opportunity, however, we must be even more ambitious.
Giving all children a fair chance requires prioritising and investing in early years education, because gaps that emerge in that crucial stage can later become insurmountable. We must also give teachers the freedom to create a broader curriculum that recognises (and enables) all talents. In the past, we allowed Michael Gove to design a curriculum which met his own interests while disengaging thousands of children – and limiting teachers’ ability to nurture creativity, problem-solving, resilience and teamwork. We must never again let such antediluvian visions prevail over the expertise of those who actually know how to teach.
To give all adults a fair chance, we must champion the Lib Dem policy for life-long learning accounts (which I helped to shape) with verve and determination. They will enable everyone to adapt and re-adapt to a fast-changing world. Yet while we languish at just 6% in the polls (down by half since the election!), the proposal will receive no attention. Our party has always fought for education – but to continue, we must stop our decline.
Students need a party that stands up for them, listens to their frustrations, and does something about them. Once, we were the natural political home of students: With the bold, progressive and liberal vision I have set out for our party and our country, we can be so again.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Oxford West & Abingdon. She tweets @LaylaMoran