Sure Start, school building and tuition fees: the Conservative and Coalition record

14 May 2018
What was claimed

In the last eight years, spending cuts led to the closure of children’s centres.

Our verdict

The number of children’s centres in England has fallen by around 500 from 2010 to 2017, and the number of Sure Start centres has fallen by around 1,200. Funding for Sure Start in England fell by 50% in real terms from 2010/11 to 2016/17.

What was claimed

In the last eight years, the “Building schools for the future” project has been stopped.

Our verdict

It was stopped in 2010 and replaced with a new scheme in 2011. The old scheme aimed to rebuild and refurbish all secondary schools in England. The new scheme is targeted at “school buildings in the worst condition across the country”.

What was claimed

In the last eight years, Education Maintenance Allowance has been taken away.

Our verdict

It was removed in England at the end of the 2010/11 school year, and replaced by a new bursary scheme. Government research suggests the new scheme has lowered participation in further education among students previously eligible for EMA.

What was claimed

In the last eight years, university tuition fees have trebled.

Our verdict

Correct, they went from a maximum of £3,000 to £9,000 for students beginning higher education in England in 2011/12. They’re now at £9,250.

“If I look at the journey of the young person in my constituency, from a child to becoming an adult—children's centres had to close due to the cuts the government made over the last eight years. Then you went to school, your building schools for the future project, renewing our school buildings, stopped. You then got to further education, education maintenance allowance was taken away from you and then if you made it to university, your tuition fees were trebled. That isn’t investing in young people, that is taking away from young people.”

Chuka Umunna MP, 10 May 2018

Chuka Umunna correctly identified a number of Coalition and Conservative government policies relating to young people and education. In some cases, where the government stopped a policy, they also replaced it with a new one. We take a look at each of the policies identified, and their impact, in further detail.

This is not meant to be a complete assessment of the Coalition and Conservative record on youth and education. Rather, it looks specifically at the areas picked out by Mr Umunna.

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Children’s centres

508 children's centres closed in England between 2010 and August 2017, according to the government.

There were around 3,600 in 2010, compared to just over 3,100 late last year. You can’t perfectly compare the number of children’s centres in 2010 and 2017 though, due to changes in how the data is recorded.

There are two types of centre included in these figures. Sure Start centres provide childcare, family support and health advice to local families, and have to meet a legal definition, whereas other “children’s centres” provide some of these services, but don’t meet the legal definition.

In 2010, there were around 3,630 Sure Start centres. By late 2017, the number of Sure Start centres had fallen by around 1,200. The National Audit Office found that spending by councils in England on Sure Start fell by 50% in real terms from 2010/11 to 2016/17.

School building

The Coalition government did end Labour’s “Building schools for the future programme” (BSF) in 2010, although it replaced it with its own scheme: “Priority School Building Programme” (PSBP).

Announced in 2003, Labour’s BSF aimed “to rebuild, refurbish and provide new Information Technology for all 3,500 secondary schools in England by 2020”. In 2009 this was estimated to cost £52 to £55 billion.

By 2009, the National Audit Office reported that the speed of delivery would need to increase to complete the programme on time. “Fifty-four schools are due to open in 2009 and 121 in the following year. To start all secondary schools by 2020, the number of schools in procurement and construction at any one time will need to double over the next three years.”

In July 2010, the Coalition government announced the project would be frozen “In order to ensure that we do not waste any more money on a dysfunctional process”.

The Coalition government then announced its own programme (PSBP) in 2011. It aimed to rebuild and refurbish 537 “school buildings in the worst condition across the country” by 2021, and was expected to cost £4.4 billion in 2016.

In 2017, the National Audit Office found that on average schools built under the new programme “are one-third cheaper per square metre than schools built under” the previous one. There were some reported concerns “about what the Department has done to reduce costs (for example, decreasing the size of communal spaces)”.

Education Maintenance Allowance

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was ended in England by the Coalition government at the end of the year 2010/11, and replaced by a new “16 to 19 bursaries” scheme. EMA is still available in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

In England, EMA provided weekly grants to 16 to 18 year olds from low-income households, encouraging them to stay in education after the end of their compulsory years. In its final year these grants were worth £10 to £30 a week depending on household income.

In September 2011, the Coalition government replaced EMA with “16 to 19 bursaries”. These government-funded bursaries are “discretionary”, with schools broadly getting to decide which students are eligible, and how much to give them. Additionally, young people can receive a “vulnerable student bursary” of up to £1,200 per year if they are or have been in care, or are in receipt of certain benefits.

In 2012/13, government-commissioned research estimated that around 360,000 students received a discretionary bursary, and 24,000 received a vulnerable student bursary. This compares to around 640,000 receiving EMA in 2009/10.

When the 16 to 19 bursary fund was introduced in 2011/12, it cost “£384 million less than the 2010/11 EMA in nominal terms”.

Overall, the research found that the new 16 to 19 bursaries lowered participation among students who would otherwise have received either full or partial EMA.

Tuition Fees

It’s correct that the Coalition government trebled the maximum cost of tuition fees for students starting higher education in England in 2011/12. They rose from a maximum of £3,000, to £9,000. The maximum is now £9,250.

You can read more about the impact of this on access to higher education here.

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