New government -all change in education. Well, not really. Of course, some things will change. Whoever heard of an education secretary taking office saying that “my agenda is to do nothing for a while and oversee a period of consolidation, bedding in previous policies.” Dream on. But there is a continuum operating. Believe it or not , there is much more that unites political parties in education than divides them . So, there are certain issues that we know will continue on the education agenda. and would have continued , regardless of the party in power. At the most basic level all want to see attainment rise, and for the gap between the most disadvantaged and their peers to close, so the Pupil Premium is still in. As for the rest..
Academies – will continue to dominate the structural landscape. The status of Free Schools that exist, or are due to open shortly, will be protected, and Morgan is committed to the expansion of Free Schools -500– but the big question, given the crisis in primary places (see below) is will they be restricted to areas where there is a shortage of capacity? Or will groups still be able to establish schools in areas where there are surplus places? There is also the vexed question of rural and coastal areas- where there are too few good schools, and where academy chains seldom venture. What to do about these deprived areas? The debate over autonomy and what it means, will continue and local authorities will seek more influence over education. Though they wont get more control over schools, there is still a role for LAs in education , for example as champions of fair admissions and vulnerable pupils and those who fall between the gaps.
Collaboration – There will be a greater focus on what good collaboration looks like and the need for schools and groups of schools to become more engaged in meaningful collaboration to improve student outcomes. There will be pressure on successful schools and chains of schools to expand and to help others that are perceived as less successful. There is a correlation between collaboration and academic success, but networking is not, in itself, sufficient and needs to be rooted in a substantive body of evidence. It is also the case (whisper it softly) that some high performing chains operate effectively, more through top down prescription than meaningful collaboration.
Evidence informed practice- is high on the agenda. Its accepted that if you want better teachers and teaching to drive up attainment and narrow the achievement gap, you have got to ensure that the best practice is identified and shared widely across the system. You also need to ensure that high quality research on what interventions work best in the classroom is identified , or indeed commissioned, managed, and can then be utilized effectively at the chalk face. There are challenges here, of course, in identifying what good research looks like ,and in ensuring that the full context is taken into account and teachers can still apply their professional judgement, but these challenges are not insurmountable. More schools look likely to engage in action research.This allows a pragmatic, iterative approach of trying things out, evaluating their effects and adjusting interventions in response to data.
Professional Development – there will a greater focus on support for identifying and supporting high quality continuous professional development in the teaching workforce, raising the quality of classroom teaching, while seeking to raise the status of the profession. The way you improve outcomes is to improve instruction and the key to this is identifying good CPD and using interventions that are known to work.(see above). Also watch out for the College of Teaching to help raise the status of the Profession. That will happen.
Accountability – there will be efforts to improve the accountability of schools and establish an effective middle tier of accountability, to seek to identify early, schools that are failing or ‘coasting’. Schools will be obliged to provide more data to feed greater accountability. Chains may be allowed to expand – but, as now, there will be a focus on the quality and added value delivered by chains, and there will be restrictions on expansion which will need to meet certain defined thresholds. There will be a debate about the limits of autonomy, the restrictions and limits placed on chains and the way they can invest resources, to improve pupil outcomes.
Ofsted – at the centre of the accountability regime, it is highly likely that it will be reformed to ensure that it wins back the trust of the profession. Significantly, it looks likely that a reformed Ofsted will inspect chains for the value added they are providing. However, the system needs to be tightened up to ensure greater consistency, predictability and fairness, whether inspecting chains or individual schools. There will be increased focus on the governance by and of chains too.
Careers – In the last few months Morgan conjured up some cash for an independent company-£20m- that will broker among stakeholders careers advice in schools. Its supposed to promote both careers and enterprise. The government will also be keen to get more direct inputs and engagement from employers and better quality work experience (although employers can never be a substitute for professional careers advisers).The worry is that start up and staff costs will eat up quite a lot of this pump primed funding and there wont be much to replace it, when its gone ,which may be sooner rather than later. Doubts remain in the sector about how effective this new company can be and lobbying by stakeholders for a more holistic, strategic approach rather than the patchy, fragmented one we have now, is inevitable- to ensure greater access and equity to careers education and guidance for all ages. This could also help the government deliver on some of its broader educational, social, skills and economic objectives. How do you improve social mobility, for example, if young people are making poorly informed decisions and choices at an early age that will act as a barrier to their upward mobility? And how do you encourage young people to look at high quality apprenticeships as a serious option if there is nobody to highlight this and guide them through the options.?
There will be other issues on the agenda , of course. A greater focus on character education and non-cognitive skills (Morgan is particularly keen on this). More priority given to mental health issues and safeguarding children’s welfare, and filling teacher vacancies in shortage subjects, And . addressing teachers workload is seen as a priority for Morgan , but much of this workload is down to politicians previous decisions and interventions. It will be interesting to see how she copes with this and whether she reduces the regulations that spawn much of the extra work.
And the elephant in the room- we are still in living in austere times and there will be less money around. The squeeze on funding means that schools will have less funding to play with perhaps as much as 12% less. That will lead to problems and hard decisions for Heads and governors . And then there is the capacity shortage (another elephant has crept in almost unnoticed) .By 2020 there will be 650,000 more pupils in the school system than there are today. The Government has not made sufficient capital provision to address the chronic shortage in primary places in many areas of the country.The scale of this problem will shortly become evident.
So, arguably, Morgan has more than enough to be getting on with. Will this mean fewer initiatives? Unlikely.