As we approach the election-how has the Coalition done on its education policy commitments?
Maybe its too early to tell?
This report, sponsored by the University of Manchester, LSE, and CASE seeks to give an overview of the Coalitions education policies and their effects on outcomes.
It notes that ‘there are elements of continuity with the policies of the previous government, in the emphasis on school choice and diversity, accountability through league tables, a widening range of providers, and a simplified funding regime’ but that ‘the scale of structural reform is significantly different from anything Labour imagined, and the changes to curriculum and assessment mark a clear departure from the direction of policy in the latter part of the Labour period’
In May 2010, David Cameron and Nick Clegg committed the Coalition to sweeping school reforms, promising “a breaking open of the state monopoly”.
They also pledged to protect school spending and give extra money to the education of the poorest pupils. So the verdict?
The Coalition did protect school spending. Total expenditure rose from £46.1bn in 2009/10 to £46.6bn in 2013/14 (in real terms in 2009/10 prices) – a rise of one per cent. This allowed pupil-teacher and pupil-adult ratios to be maintained. But capital spending fell by 57 per cent.
The Pupil Premium has directed more money to schools with poor intakes. Secondary schools with the highest proportions of pupils from low income families gained an extra 4.3 per cent funding in 2012/13 than in 2009/10, while the least deprived schools lost 2.5 per cent. All types of primary schools gained, especially the most deprived.
The Coalition has broken up local authority oversight of the state school system. By 2014, 57 per cent of secondary schools and one in ten primary schools were Academies.
Some might think the last success is, in fact, a failure. But local authorities, given their patchy record on school improvement before, will be hard pressed to regain this role in any future administration.
There is no clear evidence to date that Academies are either better or worse than the schools they replaced. Ways of managing the new fragmented system are still evolving and will be a key challenge for the next government.
The report states ‘The overall picture given by inspection data is that the proportion of outstanding and good schools has increased, but for secondary schools there has also been an increase in the proportion of inadequate schools. However, it is hard to determine whether these trends reflect real changes in the quality of schools or changes in the inspection criteria or are just features of the sample of schools inspected each year.’
‘Whether or not a more autonomous school system has the potential to improve quality and outcomes, putting in place the mechanisms for its effective management seem certain to be a principal concern of any new government elected in May 2015.’
Other reforms have included changes to curriculum and assessment to make them more demanding. Teacher training has been reformed to emphasise school-led, ‘on-the-job’ training.
Results from primary school testing and GCSE exams continued to rise until 2013.
However in 2014 GCSE attainment fell, and socio-economic gaps opened up for lower attainers.
The report, crucially, suggests that it is really is too early to tell whether the coalition’s policies have been successful. It states that we are …. ‘without any clear answers about whether the government’s changes have been better or will be better for children’s outcomes, nor even whether they have delivered on the Coalition’s goals of more robust standards, better teaching, and a system in which poorer students get to go to better schools. It is simply too early to tell the effect of system change which has not yet in any case bedded down, while reforms to curriculum and assessment have not yet fully been implemented. In this situation of rapid change and data timelags, learning from historical and international comparisons, from qualitative studies, and from practice, will be as important in policy-making as scrutinising the quantitative evidence in the UK to date.’
But this exposes a fundamental flaw in any accountability regime. There will always be a lag, before interventions show, or indeed don’t show, their effects. By which time the politicians responsible have moved on. And so cant be held to account (or am I missing something?)
This report concludes:
‘The next government will inherit a school system in flux and key issues of equity and achievement still unresolved’
Really? Doesnt that pretty much summarise the end of term reports for every government over the last two generations.
Will we now perform better in the next Pisa tables one wonders? Almost certainly not, as ,although our politicians use Pisa as a benchmark, they have done nothing much to improve the problem solving skills of our pupils something that the Pisa tests aim to measure .
Social Policy in a Cold Climate
Working Paper 13 – The Coalition’s Record on Schools: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015 Ruth Lupton and Stephanie Thomson
University of Manchester, CASE and LSE