Impact of 8 June 2017 elections on education

18 Aug

In the run-up to the last general elections, several people in England were worried about the possible impact of the election outcome on education, especially when Prime Minister Theresa May kept on banging about wanting a “strong and stable” government.  You may recall reading in the Tory manifesto, released breathtakingly late, that it was the intention of government to increase the number of grammar schools in the country from the present 163.  The argument for it was that comprehensive schools were failing children.   That the additional children who would be attending the increased number of grammar schools would continue to fall well short of those that applied for it, causing disappointment, rejection and dismay failed to shake May from her avowed position.

These “several people” breathed a sigh of relief when the election outcome produced a hung parliament – clipping the Prime Minister’s wings and resulting in the ousting of her private advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, the advisers of the grammar school initiative which would have taken us back to the future.

Perhaps we will now have some respite from educational policy initiative and the opportunity of bedding down the countless reforms heaped upon us – beginning with the assessment of pupils in the Early Years Foundation Stage, moving through curricular changes and ending in reforms in GCSE gradings. Unlike commentators like Warwick Mansell (writing in The Guardian on 18 June 2017), I don’t find education policy initiative anathema, per se.  Rather, the plethora of them (including some bad policies) does not make for the nurturing of a good educational system and sells our children short.  The hung parliament will place a brake on such initiatives.

(1)     Promises

What was welcome were two promises.

The first was on technical education. The Queen said that the government would “work to ensure that people have the skills they need for the high-skilled, high wage jobs of the future” with a major reform of technical education.

Secondly, the government proposes to publish a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health “focused on helping our youngest and most vulnerable members of society receive the best start in life”.

(2)     Stillborn Proposals

The White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, proposed compulsory academisation for every school by 2022.  The efficacy of the policy and the benefits it would have brought to schools, forcing them to waste time on changing direction, were questionable.  The proposed policy is stillborn.

During the electioneering, it was touted that free school meals for Infant children would be scrapped.   That suffered an early demise.

Prior to the elections, other policy initiatives – which have been confined to the wastebin of history – included

  • forcing pupils to resit their Standard Assessment Tests in Year 7 if they had “failed” them in Year 6 (at primary school);
  • replacing GCSEs with O levels and following that with replacing those with the English Baccalaureate;
  • requiring at least 90% of students to pass their English Baccalaureate by 2020, then pushing the target to 2025 and finally reducing the figure to 75%;
  • creating the National Teaching Service (NTS) to attract ex-service men and women to join the teaching force and then abandoning it when it attracted a mere 54 recruits; and
  • more changes to primary assessments.

(3)     What could still go ahead

Conservative election promises not mentioned in the Queen’s speech, but which could possibly go ahead are as follows.

  1. The admissions cap on new faith schools, which stops them selecting more than half of pupils on the basis of faith, may be removed. There have been reports that this policy would be dropped, but because the cap is not set in legislation, it could be lifted without the need to pass a new law.
  2. Ensuring at least 100 leading independent schools become involved in sponsoring academies or founding free schools, and “keeping open the option” of changing the tax status of private schools “if enough progress is not made”. This was proposed in the Schools that Work for Everyone consultation, and the government’s intentions are likely to become clearer when it responds the responses it received.
  • Universities may still become involved in academy sponsorship or founding free schools if they want to increase tuition fees. This was proposed in the Schools that Work for Everyone
  1. Councils may continue to be banned from creating new places in schools rated “inadequate” or “requires improvement”.
  2. A specialist maths school could be established in every major city in England.
  3. The school admissions policy may be reviewed and a “mandatory, lottery-based school admissions policy” could be ruled out.
  • The teaching of literacy and numeracy in the early years could be strengthened.
  • Schools’ accountability at Key Stage 3 could be strengthened.
  1. Arrangements could be made for children to have access to “an academic, knowledge-rich curriculum” and Key Stage 2 assessments would be drawn from a knowledge base.
  2. The government may create a curriculum fund to encourage Britain’s leading cultural and scientific institutions to help develop knowledge-rich materials for schools.
  3. The government may consider how Ofsted gives parents more information on what their children are being taught.

The government may exempt new teachers from repaying their student loans while they are teaching to give them dedicated support throughout their careers.

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