Davey announces flagship Catch-Up Voucher policy

Today Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey has announced a new flagship Education policy on the third day of the party’s conference – Catch-Up Vouchers.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a £15 billion package of education catch-up funding, as recommended by the Government’s former Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins.

As part of this, the party is calling for a £5 billion programme of Catch-Up Vouchers for every school child, putting the money directly into parents’ hands to spend on whatever their children need most: tutoring in reading, writing or maths; music lessons; swimming classes or other physical education.

This idea of a three-year programme of education Catch-Up Vouchers would become the world’s biggest ever parent-listening exercise.

These Catch-Up Vouchers would be doubled and in some cases tripled, for children in care, for disadvantaged children, and for those with special educational needs.

Commenting on the new policy ahead of his speech Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey MP said:

Covid should mark a watershed in how we educate our children and young people. It is clearer than ever that we need a massive education catch-up fund. And this catch-up fund – which our schools desperately need – should also give parents a radical new role in their children’s education.

If we are to repair and reverse the lost learning our children have suffered, we need this Government to implement what their own catch-up expert recommended, to fire up a fresh direction for education.

Schools should be free to spend their Covid cash as they see best, and parents should have a catch-up fund that goes directly to them in the most radical empowering of parents ever.

The Liberal Democrats are the party of empowering people, and supporting parents and children is our top priority in the new fair deal we offer. We empowered children and schools with the Pupil Premium, and our Catch-Up Vouchers would empower the most disadvantaged children now.

The policy

Catch-Up Vouchers worth £200 a year for 3 years, given directly to parents for all 8.3 million children in state-funded schools.

Double vouchers (worth £400/yr) for disadvantaged children (those eligible for the Pupil Premium) and those with special educational needs.

Triple vouchers (worth £600/yr) for:

  • Pupils with special educational needs who are also eligible for Free School Meals
  • Looked-after and previously looked-after children

For parents to spend on approved tutors or classes however they choose – through the school or outside of it. Any vouchers not spent over the year go to the child’s school for their benefit.

Schools would be encouraged to offer extra catch-up tutoring and classes, funded through vouchers, and teachers encouraged to discuss with parents what would most benefit their children.

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14 Comments

  • Excellent idea. Really good, memorable, easy-to-explain, easy-to-understand policy – and fundamentally Liberal (gives the power to parents and schools, not Whitehall/Westminster). Well done to those who came up with it.

  • John Marriott 19th Sep '21 - 3:39pm

    Arch Tory, ‘Mad Monk’ Keith Joseph, advocated a voucher system in education way back – a bad idea then and an equally bad idea now, in my opinion, as what guarantee would we have that this ‘money’ would be wisely spent? The devil, as always, is in the detail. A bureaucratic nightmare? Why not get rid of academies instead and bring all state schools back under light touch local council democratically accountable control?

  • Brad Barrows 19th Sep '21 - 4:05pm

    Sadly, there is a correlation between the pupils furthest behind academically and parents who are either least interested or least able to make or implement good decisions for their children. For example, poor school attendance is often linked to poor parenting and these parents will be the ones entrusted to decide how to best meet their children’s educational or developmental needs.

  • John Marriott and I were both around in education (and I believe in Liberal Politics ) – I was a Head in what is now Tim Farron’s constituency – when, way back in 1981, Margaret Thatcher’s Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph tried (and failed) to introduce his neo-liberal voucher scheme. It was abandoned once it came under scrutiny and I can well remember it.

    I believe Sir Edward Davey was just sixteen then and attending the selective fee paying Nottingham High School. Possibly after a bit more research into how things worked out in the USA he will quietly drop it.

    I agree with all John’s conclusions, observations and suggestions..

  • John Marriott and Brad Burrows make good points.
    My role in the charity for which I work often involves supporting vulnerable families, it is not so much that the parents don’t care for their children, usually they do, but the parenting skills can be very poor to non existent, compounded in many cases by dependency upon illicit drugs and / or alcohol.
    My concern would be that, as others have suggested, those that most need extra support would benefit least from this scheme.

  • @Martin The whole point of the policy is letting parents decide what is best for their child. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the money won’t go to the school. If the school has ‘a problem with literacy,’ then parents could choose to give their vouchers to the school to fund extra literacy tuition – and in practice I suspect the bulk of parents in that school would do that. But first the school would need to engage with parents and convince them it was able to offer such tuition – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. Meanwhile, if an individual parent felt their child was doing OK with literacy but had shown real potential at swimming, which was interrupted by the pandemic, then they could use their voucher for extra swimming lessons instead. That seems like a good Liberal policy to me.
    All of that said, today’s announcement was broad brush stuff and – much as I know it goes against the instinct of people in here – I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of defending precisely how every aspect of it would work, because that of course needs to be worked out, which will be up to the policy committee and future conferences. All I’m saying for today is that it’s a good, interesting new policy and yes I think in principle it is easily explained.

  • Peter Watson 19th Sep '21 - 9:16pm

    Where does a “flagship” policy like this one for catch-up vouchers come from? Members seem too surprised for it It to have been something they voted for, or was the debate/vote not widely reported?
    Meanwhile, other education-related motions that members voted for at conferences a few years ago (“abandon the selection by ability”, “ensure that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out”) never seem to have been presented as policies.

  • I rather feel this is the worst of both worlds.

    The amount per individual is too trivial to have any meaningful or measurable impact on that child but in totality the scheme is colossally expensive.

    To give some idea- £200 might get you 5 hours of good private tuition if you are lucky in many parts of the country. Thats it.

  • @Ryan “To give some idea- £200 might get you 5 hours of good private tuition” Very true. And it could be even worse than that – we’re talking about suddenly pumping £5Bn of extra demand for private tuition into the market overnight. Where are all the extra private tutors going to come from? Normal rules of supply and demand tell us that price rises will inevitably follow – especially given that there would presumably need to be some certification scheme to ensure the money is only spent on tutors who are qualified.

    (Actually I think you can get cheaper private tutoring if you go online and use tutors abroad over Zoom etc., but I imagine that would run into problems finding people who are specifically qualified to teach to the UK curriculum for academic subjects).

    This whole thing sounds to me like a gimmick rather than a serious policy.

  • This is an interesting policy, and it makes a great point – that our children need extra support. I take the point that well off, already engaged parents will be in a position to make the most of this kind of policy, but it’s safe to say that a lot of those parents have already arranged extra private tuition and after school clubs for their kids to help them catch-up/get further ahead.

    The detail that the value of the vouchers can be doubled, possibly tripled for the most vulnerable children is important. I hope that would come with extra support so the parents and carers and schools can make the most of them.

    One-on-one private tuition may be desirable for some, but if schools manage the vouchers they’ll be able to get the money to go further by arranging tuition in small groups, and I don’t think we should under-estimate the value for many of an after-school club.

    Before my dad retired, he and his colleagues would sometimes give free extra tuition for particular children who needed it. From memory, it was kids who had missed lots of school due to illness, and expecting them to do the same for every child is unfair. But I’m sure there’s a fair number of qualified teachers who would be happy to get involved and not use high demand as an excuse to push up their prices.

  • Getting schools involved to provide small group tuition is an interesting way to spread the cost in the short term, but I think it carries a hidden danger: It means schools – and teachers – would be providing extra teaching only to those pupils whose parents pay for it (via their vouchers). What happens when the vouchers have finished? You have a lot of schools and teachers who have suddenly got used to the idea that they can make extra money by providing extra tuition for a fee! What is to stop wealthier/more committed parents from simply stumping up the cash for teachers to continue to provide that extra tuition just for their children, and you then end up with a two-tier education system within schools.

    Obviously, many parents are always going to do what they can to help their own children along anyway, including by seeking private tuition – and basic human freedom and liberal values imply that they have every right to do so. But do we really want the idea of extra-tuition for people who pay being actually embedded in the education system in the way that using vouchers for parents to pay schools would risk causing?

  • There is a very large correlation between family poverty and children’s achievement. All indications at moment are that poverty is set to increase dramatically. We need to focus on removing poverty.
    The interesting contribution by Simon R reminded me of a discussion with some teachers at an Infants School some years ago when there were Key Stage 1 SATs. They were upset by the number of parents who had asked them for help in finding tutors for their little children to prepare for the SATs.
    The other memory is of a survey of children leaving a secondary school who were asked an anonymous question about being tutored throughout their secondary school lives. One third said they had. The estimate by staff was that one third more had been tutored by parents or other family members.
    Both schools were in prosperous areas. We might guess the answers in deprived areas.
    We really do need to look for how to improve the prospects for many children.

  • Sorry, soundbite policy – thus not fit for purpose.

    Those who gained GSCE’s and A-levels this year, suffered big losses in teaching time and so are behind where they need to be to commence their next step, namely: A-levels and degrees. Thus the need for “Catch-Up” support is now and in key subjects.

    My son for example is now 3 weeks into a math’s catch-up to ensure all students are up to the same standard in a few weeks time when they will be expected to commence their A-level studies. Naturally, their A-level studies will be condensed, in part because of this and the need to provide some contingency for further CoViD disruption…

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