Annabel Denham

Is Labour really a credible government-in-waiting?

Keir Starmer (Credit: Getty images)

How long do you give it before Labour abandon their promise of golden hellos for new teachers? Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has insisted their proposed £2,400 welcome bonus wheeze will be fully costed, funded by a tax raid on fee-paying schools.

It is not yet clear whether Labour has considered that putting private education beyond the reach of tens of thousands will mean many pupils pouring into the state system, at a cost of hundreds of millions every year. Nor whether party strategists realise they may be slightly overestimating how far they can make the £1.6 billion raised annually from this levy go.

Labour’s U-turns are a reminder that fantastical ideas will collide with reality sooner or later

Undoubtedly, recruitment and retention in the profession is a challenge. Teacher vacancies in England are almost twice their pre-Covid level. But surely the more worrying development for our children’s education is the vastly increased loss of learning days thanks to both a 60 per cent rise in teacher sick days last year and repeated strike walkouts.

The average number of sick days taken was 6.3, up from 3.9 days in 2021, while this week will see the sixth round of industrial action in 2023. Most teachers received a 5 per cent pay rise for the present academic year; the government has pledged to increase starting salaries to £30,000. Labour now appears to be upping the ante.

But Labour’s promises should be taken with a fistful of salt. Away from the Tory psychodrama, the opposition have been quietly abandoning many of the grand plans unveiled over the past couple of years.

Let’s begin with Starmer’s 10 pledges, based on the ‘moral case for socialism’, announced during his leadership bid. Reintroducing free movement, nationalising rail, mail, energy and water, raising income tax for the top 5 per cent of earners, scrapping tuition fees – all have since been ditched.

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