Election 2019, Your Questions Answered: Education and tuition fees


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There are just over three weeks to go before the general election. What will the main parties offer voters on education?

Here are our answers to a selection of readers’ questions on tuition fees, school funding and more.

If Labour cancel tuition fees for university students, what happens to fees owed by ex-graduates? – Bill Coombes, Wells-next-the-Sea

Universities in England can currently charge up to £9,250 a year in tuition fees, which can be paid for through a student loan. Recent figures indicate that the average debt among students who finished their courses in 2018 was £36,000.

The Labour Party has pledged to scrap tuition fees for university students in England as have the Green Party. The Brexit Party has said it will scrap interest charges on tuition fees.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have yet to outline their plans. But none of the main parties has suggested that outstanding fees or loans should be refunded or cancelled.

Scottish students at universities in Scotland do not pay tuition fees. They receive bursaries and loans to pay living expenses. Students from other parts of the UK are charged tuition fees if they attend university in Scotland.

Students at Welsh universities are charged tuition fees. And Welsh students, wherever they study in the UK, can also receive financial assistance (with living costs) from the Welsh government.

Universities in Northern Ireland can charge up to £4,395 a year for tuition, from next year. Northern Irish students can apply for student loans to go to university anywhere in the UK.

Following the publication of the report on tuition fees, would a future Conservative government cut the fees and when? – Karen Exley, York

A recent government-commissioned review of university tuition fees in England recommended they should be cut from £9,250 to £7,500.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not yet confirmed whether he will go ahead with lowering fees.

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The Tories claim that more money has been put into education. But has the amount per head increased since 2010? – Ken Spencer, London

Per-pupil school funding in England fell by 8% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2018-19. This is according to a study by the independent analysts, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

This decrease in school budgets is a calculation that takes into account rising costs and inflation – and also an increase in the number of pupils.

So the headline amount of money might have increased in cash terms, but it had to stretch much further. So for schools it meant they had less to spend on each pupil.

In England, school spending per pupil has fallen from £6,537 in 2009 to £5,994 in the 2018 financial year. At the same time, the IFS says pupil numbers in English primary schools have increased by 17%. Average class sizes in secondary schools have risen from 20 to 22 pupils.

But before the general election was called, the Conservative government promised to reverse the cuts and increase school funding by £7.1bn after three years. In real terms, the IFS says this will be worth £4.3bn, which is enough to return funding to 2010 levels.

Until recently I home educated my son, through necessity. Why is there no funding for this? – Joscelyn, Market Weighton

Parents are responsible for ensuring their children are properly educated, if they are of “compulsory school age” in England – between five and 18.

The law is similar across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – education is compulsory, but going to school is not.

Parents take on the full financial responsibility for teaching their child at home, according to charity Child Law Advice.

Some local authorities offer support, like discounted admission to sports facilities. The government is also consulting on proposals that would require councils in England to provide more assistance, such as financial contributions towards exam fees.

Where do the main parties stand on private schools? – Ambrose, Radstock

At Labour’s annual conference there were commitments to bring private schools into the state sector.

This included calls for their assets to be “redistributed” and the introduction of limits on university places for privately-educated students.

But the only clear signal on what might make it into Labour’s manifesto has been the plan to add VAT to private school fees, which are currently VAT-exempt. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said that would pay for free school meals for primary school children.

So far, without manifestos published, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have still to show their intentions for private schools.

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Will polling automatically force school closures to allow for ballots or will they be hosted somewhere else? – Macauley Moseley, Derby

Head teachers cannot refuse to allow their schools to be used as polling stations on election day in the UK.

Schools that are publicly funded can be used free of charge. They must set aside a room to be used for voters to cast their ballots, including in academies and free schools.

Polling stations need to meet accessibility requirements. They also need to be in easy-to-find locations to ensure voters do not face any problems on the day.

Given that schools often meet these criteria, this makes them a popular choice with returning officers, who choose the venues in each constituency.

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