Parents should be handed a £200 voucher for each child to spend on extra tutoring, music lessons or sports clubs as part of a £5bn programme to help pupils catch up after the pandemic, the Liberal Democrats announce today.
In an interview with the Observer, the party leader, Ed Davey, said he wanted to encourage the increased demand from parents to be part of their children’s education as a result of the crisis. Awarding an annual £200 for each child for three years would amount to one of the most radical parent empowerment programmes ever undertaken.
Under the plan, to be unveiled by Davey in his autumn conference speech on Sunday, parents could spend the catch-up voucher on extra tuition run by schools, tutors or clubs approved to take part in the scheme. The activities could cover everything from tutoring in reading, writing or maths, to music lessons, swimming classes or other physical education.
“I’ve long thought we need to involve parents more in education,” Davey said. “There’s quite a lot of research going back over the years suggesting that where parents get more involved with their kids’ education, their kids do better. I tried to teach my little girl, not so successfully if I’m honest. But I still got more involved and, talking to other parents, they got more involved.
“I think there are a lot of parents who are struggling who, given these vouchers, may say, ‘I couldn’t get piano lessons from the school. So I’m going to get piano lessons. I couldn’t get tennis lessons at my child’s school to be the next Emma Raducanu, so I’m going to spend this on tennis lessons.’ That is completely legitimate in my view. I think they should have a bit more flexibility.”
The party previously backed spending £15bn in a national education catch-up programme demanded by the government’s education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, who resigned when ministers rejected his plans. While £10bn would go to schools, Davey said £5bn should go straight to parents through the voucher system.
Under the policy, the value of vouchers would rise to £400 for disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs, and £600 for the most vulnerable and children in care. Davey said empowering parents would encourage schools to offer catch-up services that parents wanted.
“I’ve talked to teachers and education experts who say it makes a massive difference if parents are really interested, are really involved,” he said. “I think the preferences of parents will be revealed by what they decide to purchase from the school, or what they purchase elsewhere in the local community. It will teach us a lot about what parents are thinking. That will probably be the world’s biggest ever parents’ listening exercise, and will teach schools, government and experts a huge amount. That can only really take education to another level.”
The catch-up scheme would be paid for out of additional borrowing, which was “the best investment the government could possibly make”. Only approved providers would be eligible and he would assemble a panel of experts to ensure the details of the scheme were right.
Davey said boosting education was fundamental to his attempts to win liberal Tory seats, a mission that began with the party’s win in the Chesham and Amersham byelection earlier this year. Boris Johnson’s reshuffle had, he said, presented the Lib Dems with an even greater opportunity to appeal to liberal Tories.
“Some of the people he’s promoted … is just the wrong signal to the voters … The people we talked to in Chesham and Amersham aren’t going to be impressed by this new shape of the government. It’s just more of the same from Boris Johnson, playing to people’s prejudices. He’s not developing a more liberal Tory government. That creates even more opportunities for us.”