What  now for education policy?

With no Education Bill in the Queens speech, what will be keeping Ministers busy?

The minority government  and reshuffle that never was  means that Theresa May now has little freedom of movement. So what might this mean for education policy? It seems rash in this climate to make firm predictions, but here goes.


We know that May had planned no real terms increase in per capita funding for schools. If pre-election policies stick, there will be a decrease of around 3-6% over this parliament unless the government really is wedded to less austerity, as implied by our new environment secretary Michael Gove. The increase in pupil numbers will place pressure on schools both primary and secondary. Some further marginal cost savings and efficiencies might be squeezed out of schools but for many, probably most, there is no wriggle room left. Also, bear in mind inflation is close to 3% and rising. If more funding is not available and Greening wants more there will be two consequences.

Firstly, the curriculum offer will be narrowed, as teachers and assistants are lost, pastoral support reduced and some school days shortened. Secondly, more schools will be tempted to join chains to afford some protection against cuts, although there may be limited capacity and few incentives for those running chains for this to happen at scale. My guess is there will have to be some adjustment in schools funding, to ease the burden, but it will not be as much as headteachers want and feel they need.

As for the free schools and academies programme, the programme remains the main delivery mechanism for much needed additional school places, regardless of the government’s stance on grammars and increased selection, which has been   radically scaled back  , will probably be    dropped altogether. Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 backbench committee, has suggested that there might be pilots on increased selection but that seems the best that the pro-selection lobby can expect. But even that in the current climate is a big ask

And, as far as the much vaunted new school funding formula is concerned, this will be placed, yet again, on the backburner. Clearly a new fairer formula is needed as the current system is unfair but as any new formula will create winners and losers, a minority government just cannot afford to upset even a minority of its backbenchers. Schools Minister Nick Gibb suggests that a new Formula will still be introduced, but this is unlikely as things stand .

Teacher recruitment and retention remains a big challenge. Getting enough leaders identified, trained, supported and deployed where they are most needed, is becoming a major priority and that will be Nick Gibb’s responsibility. Efforts to date have proved disjointed and piecemeal. There is currently no sustained pipeline of good heads, although there is some funding available  and a  new leadership college may be  in the wings. So, watch this space.

On the skills front there will be efforts to improve the quality and scope of apprenticeships as well as promoting higher degree apprenticeships and alternative routes into employment, beyond traditional degrees. Disappointingly, for the guidance sector, junior minister Robert Halfon was sacked. One of his main tasks had been to present a new careers strategy, which would be welcomed by all parties and employers particularly if informed by  all the so called ‘Gatsby benchmarks’, but this may be delayed further.

Mental health  is now seen as an issue from the Primary phase right through to Higher Education. The issue now is resources and  capacity within the system to address the challenge of identifying early  those with issues and getting them professional support before its too late.

Higher education

In higher education (HE), the new Higher Education and Research Act will be implemented, whether universities like it or not, they will be in a more competitive and accountable environment. The new Teaching Excellence Framework has  clearly embarrassed one or two leading universities, strong on research but poor on  teaching quality,  who  have  been  found to be wanting.  The TEF will be reviewed, and its metrics fine- tuned,  but,  make no mistake,  its here to stay.  With increasing numbers of students feeling they don’t get value for  money for their courses, and destination measures being published, as well as future earnings, the age of increased accountability in the HE sector is upon us. Vice Chancellors will be hard pressed to justify their inflated pay packets, under increased scrutiny.

May’s hard-nosed attitude to international students and tightening up visas will undoubtedly come under renewed attack and she is likely to have to concede some  ground under pressure from businesses, the research community and vice-chancellors, as UK universities slip down international league tables and Indian students, among others, no longer feel welcomed.

Brexit brings its own worries for the sector around access to  research funding, and in   attracting and retaining  both staff and students,. But there are also new opportunities for   collaboration, and for  transnational  partnerships around research,  enterprise , teaching and learning, and expect more satellite campuses abroad. .

Labour’s popular offer of no more tuition fees, which helped secure the support of the young vote, means that university funding will be back on the agenda. Expect think tanks to focus  in on this issue over the coming months.The interest rate that students now have to pay on their loans  is widely regarded as unacceptable.

The findings of the Sainsbury Review, which proposed the creation of T-levels and 15 technical routes for vocational and technical education, had been met with wide support both inside and outside the skills sector. While there are still crucial details about the implementation of the reforms, notably the content and progression routes around the proposed “transition year”, the spirit and substance of the reforms have been broadly welcomed. Institutes of technology should be up and running in this parliament, employer-led, with a STEM focus and operating on a hub and spoke model.


As far as the private sector is concerned, stagnant incomes, falling output and rising inflation could mean a tougher time for private schools. Demand from domestic consumers will probably remain at best, flat. But it’s always been a resilient sector that has weathered many other storms and will continue to attract international students and open satellite schools abroad to support its income streams. The biggest worry is obviously the prospect of a future Corbyn-led government that would threaten a school’s charity status and tax breaks. The higher education reforms mean more opportunities for private, alternative providers to enter the sector, and more two year degrees are in the pipeline, offering more choice to all students, and less debt. This could be attractive to the private sector but don’t expect a mad rush. It will be incremental.

The University of Buckingham, which was the first fully fledged private, non-profit university to be established 40 years ago, is expanding, and has seen an increased number of applications this year, so the private sector is not all gloom and doom. More competition, choice, new market entrants, better accountability and information for students is all good. Vice chancellors are even now scouring the horizon for new opportunities outside Europe and the UK education brand remains a strong card to play, in spite of sharper global competition.

But with all this, there is a huge caveat attached. Minority governments rarely last long. And don’t have a great back story. May, as leader, is much diminished, with limited freedom to act. There is likely to be a leadership contest within months. If the DUP arrangement doesn’t hold, and there is no guarantee that it will, we will have another general election and possibly by the end of the year. But the world still turns and there are still new opportunities out there




David Cameron launched the education section of the Conservatives election manifesto last  week.

Teachers and Teaching

The Tories  will raise the entry requirement for taxpayer-funded primary school teacher training from a C grade in English and Maths GCSE to a B, and graduates will need at least a 2:2 in their degree in order to qualify for state-funded training.  Schools – especially struggling ones – must be able to attract the best teachers and subject specialists, so they will give all Headteachers the power to pay good teachers more. By redirecting the current teacher training budget, they will pay the student loan repayments for top maths and science graduates for as long as they remain teachers, expand Teach First and introduce two new programmes – Teach Now and Troops to Teachers – to get experienced, high-quality people into the profession.

Discipline, behaviour and exclusions

On discipline they will make it easier for teachers to use reasonable force to deal with violent incidents and remove disruptive pupils from the classroom without fear of legal action, and give teachers the strongest possible protection from false accusations. They will ‘will legislate so that teachers can ban any items that cause disruption in the classroom.’  They believe head teachers are best placed to raise standards of behaviour, which is why they will stop heads being overruled by bureaucrats over exclusions. They will reinforce powers of discipline by strengthening home school behaviour contracts.

Curriculum and quality assurance

They will reform the National Curriculum so that it is more challenging and based on evidence about what knowledge can be mastered by children at different ages. They will ensure the primary curriculum is organized around subjects like Maths, Science and History and will encourage setting so those who are struggling get extra help.  They will free schools from regulatory restrictions so that they can offer workplace training that engages young people.  They will promote the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics and ensure teachers are properly trained to teach using this method.   And provide parents with the reassurance they need that their child is making progress, we will establish a simple reading test at the age of six.

Exams and testing

Key Stage 2 tests will be overhauled and exams will be made more robust and rigorous by giving universities and subject academics more power over examinations.  They will ensure that the exam system is measured against the most rigorous systems in the world. And so that every pupil has the opportunity to test themselves against the highest standards, all state schools the freedom to offer the same high quality international exams that private schools offer.  School league tables will be reformed so that schools can demonstrate they are stretching the most able and raising the attainment of the less able. They  will publish all performance data currently kept secret by the DCSF so that web-based applications can create many new and different sorts of league tables. A free online database of exam papers and marking schemes will be set up

Supply side

They will establish technical Academies (Baker schools) across England, starting in at least the twelve biggest cities, and fund 400,000 new apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, college and other training places over two years. They will break down barriers to entry to the  supply market  so that any good education provider can set up a new Academy school – free, non-selective, high-quality state schools that are open to all. These new Academies will be run by charities, parent and teacher groups, trusts, voluntary groups and co-operatives.  Their schools revolution will create a new generation of good small schools with high standards of discipline. They give every existing school the chance to achieve Academy status, with ‘outstanding’ schools pre-approved, and extend the Academy programme to primary schools. And they will make sure Academies have the vital freedoms that help make them so successful in the first place.  A pupil premium – weighting school funding towards children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be introduced

SEN and  Inclusion

They say that because the most vulnerable children deserve the very highest quality of care, they will ‘call a moratorium on the ideologically-driven closure of special schools and end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools.’


They believe that people have been far too ready to excuse failure in schools. So they will ensure that Ofsted adopts a more rigorous and targeted inspection regime, reporting on performance only in the core areas related to teaching and learning: the quality of teaching, the effectiveness of leadership, pupils’ behaviour and safety and pupils’ achievement. There will be more unannounced inspections, and failing schools will be inspected more often – with the best schools visited less frequently. And any school that is in special measures for more than a year will be taken over immediately by a successful Academy provider.


There has been some adverse comment in the media along the lines that having a good degree and therefore the knowledge base doesn’t necessarily make you a good teacher. Many good teachers do not have good degrees. But the message from the Tories seems to be a good degree  of course doesn’t make you a good teacher but a prerequisite for good teaching  is a sound knowledge base, and the best education systems in the world  happen to recruit the best graduates.If its works  for  them then  it will  probably work for us.




Key Priority to focus on the poorest

Independent state schools the answer


Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, believes schools should be engines of social mobility. He is motivated by a social justice and equity agenda. In short, the Tories  education mission  is to improve standards – with a determined focus on the poorest.

  In this the Tories  share the views of the Blairite wing of the Labour party (though going one step further) and the former schools Minister Lord Adonis, who championed  the Academies programme. Schools, Gove believes “should enable children to overcome disadvantage and deprivation, so they can fulfill their innate talents and take control of their own destiny. Instead of grimly accepting the fate which the lottery of birth allocates to each individual, schools affirm our belief in the power of human agency to give meaning, structure and hope to every life.” But his main charge against this Government is that, if anything, the gap  in achievement between the rich and poor has  increased under this Government. From the beginning to the end of primary school, the achievement gap between FSM and non-FSM children widens – and from 11 to 14 the gap widens further still.” In those schools where more than half the children are eligible for free school meals only 13% of children get five decent GCSE passes. Out of 75,000 children eligible for free school meals only 5,000 were even entered for A levels. Of these just 189 got 3As.Of that 189, only 75 were boys. The over-centralized, bureaucratic system is to blame, according to Gove.

But Gove hasn’t given up on state schools. Indeed, he strongly believes that the state system can deliver a better deal for those on FSM .He said in his most recent speech (6 November) “..Excellence in education is emphatically not restricted to the fee-paying independent sector. There are many state schools which are quite superb, easily better than many fee-paying establishments.”

  But to do so the school supply side must to be radically reformed with new free schools  established  and  a pupil premium to encourage good  schools to take the most disadvantaged  pupils . Also more rigour needs to  introduced to the curriculum,  with a market in qualifications, better discipline  and importantly  improvements to   the quality of teachers and teaching in the classroom.

 He cited examples of outstanding state schools such as Harris City Academy, Mossbourne City Academy, Emmanuel College , Gateshead,  Thomas Telford school and  Brooke Weston College, in Corby .And what do these successful schools have in common apart from being comprehensives and inclusive? They are all independent. Not fee-paying. Not private. But independent.

 Gove said “ They are either academies or city technology colleges. They were established independent from local and central bureaucracy, free from central control over the curriculum, free to adopt the reading and maths policies which help the most disadvantaged, free to pay good staff more, free to have longer and more fulfilling school days, free to establish Saturday schools to help stretch and challenge pupils, free to shape and enforce more rigorous discipline policies, free to deploy resources more efficiently, free to develop excellent extra-curricular activities and free to spend the money on their own pupils which would otherwise be spent, beyond their control, by the local authority.”

So the independence of schools, liberating them from over-centralised controls, is seen as key to reform.

  But the Tories will also focus too on the quality of teachers and teaching in the classroom. Research in the Boston school district of the US found that teachers placed with the weakest maths teachers actually fell back in absolute performance during the year – their test scores got worse. Research from Australia and the UK affirms the American findings with academics finding that 55% of the variation in performance in mathematics at primary school and 53% of the variation at secondary level was due entirely to the quality of teaching.

 The Tories will raise the bar for entry into the teaching profession. It will no longer be acceptable, for example, to enter teacher training with just a ‘C’ grade in English or Maths GCSE. Candidates will need to have at least a ‘B’ in English and Maths. This means that primary teachers will come from the top third of students rather than the top two-thirds as now. And Heads will be allowed to pay the best performers more.

 All teachers now have to sit compulsory literacy and numeracy tests with some re-taking the test until they pass. The Tories would allow just one retake. Children would  also sit  a literacy test after two years of primary school  and the Tories would insist on concentrating on synthetic phonics to kick start reading.

 They will also focus on qualifications and the curriculum and will facilitate a debate about how and whether  our exams have been devalued by establishing a free online database of exam papers and marking schemes, from the past, and from other nations, so that parents, teachers, and academics can see for themselves how our current exams compare.

 In parallel, the Tories would  allow state  schools the chance to offer their students more challenging exams  ( ie IGCSEs) and crucially would  give universities and employers powers over A Levels and vocational qualifications to reverse their devaluation.

 The Times opined a in Leader (9 November) that If the Conservative Party achieves all this, their Education Act will rank alongside Forster and Butler in the historical reckoning. Probably true, but its some challenge particularly as our economy looks likely to remain weak for some time and new schools are costly.

 Gove Speech



The Government has failed those on Free School Meals

Just 75 FSM boys achieved three A’s.


The Oppositions main line of attack on the Government is that since it has been in office there is little evidence that social mobility has improved , nor that the most disadvantaged have had greater educational opportunity or increased access to the best universities , despite Government attempts to engineer the HE admissions system.

 One of the worst statistics being exploited is that while more than 23,000 pupils secured three As at A level, the basic passport to a top Russell group university , the number of boys eligible for free school meals countrywide who got three As at A level last year was just – 75. Those on Free School Meals constitute about 15 per cent of the school population. Eton, on the other hand had nearly three times that number of boys getting three As.

 The Government can wax eloquent about getting pupils from disadvantaged communities into Higher Education but if they are failing their A levels or not getting the necessary grades or indeed taking the wrong A levels (see below) their educational opportunities will not self-evidently improve. But there is another problem.

 While the top universities have a jaundiced view on the merits of a clutch of what they perceive as ‘soft A levels’ which they believe are not sufficiently rigorous for the demands of higher education more and more pupils from disadvantaged areas are now taking these so called soft options as schools feel under pressure from league tables. In short, many pupils are taking the wrong A levels for top universities. Every A-level is assumed to be of equal value when it comes to measuring school performance, or at least this is the line peddled by the Government ,but universities are explicit that they don’t consider every A-level to be equally rigorous. Cambridge, the LSE and others have warned prospective students that taking “softer” A-levels such as media studies and dance will count against applicants at admission time. Of course pupils on FSM have other options, including choosing good vocational routes and Apprenticeships but a key policy aim is to get more disadvantaged pupils into top universities, (not everyone agrees with this by the way) something that the Sutton Trust is promoting too, but this cant happen the way things currently are.

Gove pointed out in the Evening Standard this week that ‘When one school so comprehensively out-performs the poorest 15 per cent in our society then you know that opportunity remains blocked in Britain. And even these bleak figures don’t tell the whole story about talent squandered. The brightest children in poorer areas are also, increasingly, led to weaker exams, in softer subjects, which compromise their ability to get on the best courses.’ Why are pupils going for softer subjects? First because they are considered easier for both pupils to study and for teachers to teach. Second because every subject counts the same in school league tables, so weaker schools in poorer areas have an incentive to lead pupils to softer subjects in an effort to boost the school’s rankings. Gove points out that among pupils eligible for free school meals, four times as many take drama as physics and three times as many take media studies as chemistry. Indeed, there are two local authorities in England, Islington and Slough, where no comprehensive pupil sat a single GCSE in physics, chemistry or biology. And no student in the whole of Knowsley, or Hackney, got three good A levels that included maths and physics last year.

 The Conservatives response would be to allow all schools to offer candidates the really prestigious exams, such as the International GCSE (which doesn’t count in league tables) and the newish Cambridge Pre-U, which are effectively mostly the preserve of the independent sector at the moment. There was talk of the Tories introducing the IB in state schools but there is no mention of this in Goves article in the Standard. It is worth noting that the IB is more expensive to teach.

 But surely if these exams are harder than the so called soft subjects this move is hardly going to help pupils on free school meals, though it might well improve the opportunities for the brighter state pupils.

 The other Tory approach may deliver better results for the most disadvantaged. The Tories are committed to improving the quality of teachers and classroom teaching by insisting that new entrants to the profession have better degrees than ever before, and they pledge to concentrate cash in the poorest areas, so the best graduates have an incentive to teach in the most challenging schools. But the Tories should also make it easier to get rid of bad teachers, should make pay and pension arrangement more flexible to allow for easier entry and exit to the profession and also incentivise the best to stay in the profession. The best teachers benefit pupils whatever their social background, as Professor Dylan Wiliam of the IOE has shown.

Schools autonomy is important too to the Tories and they approve of the Charter schools model in the States (though most Charter schools are allowed to make profits-which the Tories are against) .Charter schools operate in disadvantaged areas and are socially inclusive and the best insist on a rigorous academic curriculum for all with no excuses for under-achievement.

 Gove wrote ‘We want to establish many more excellent schools following their model, schools that are socially comprehensive in intake but rigorously academic in ethos’ Good, as far as it goes, but as with the Swedish model let them make a profit too within a rigorous regulatory framework of course, so they can invest for the future and up-scale their involvement. After all many special schools in England educating some of the most challenging and vulnerable of our pupils are currently profit making.





 First, the good news. The number of pupils studying for the new diploma will more than triple this September, according to estimates that suggest the qualification is making progress despite criticism from education experts and business leaders.

Diploma students are likely to number 40,000 this September, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, up from 12,000 when they were introduced last autumn but still not up to the 50,000 target initially envisaged at their launch. In addition, a new report for the Government, released this week, says that HEIs of all kinds are well-informed about Diplomas and moreover largely sympathetic to them. The Diplomas reputation should be strengthened by the clear finding that HE senior managers in all types of institution are according applicants holding Diplomas at Level 3 the same status as A level students. With the exception of one, a ‘research-intensive’ university, senior managers in all institutions indicated that they expected to follow the UCAS tariff in regarding an Advanced Diploma as equivalent in ‘size’ and ‘status’ to 3.5 A levels. In addition, most managers and admissions tutors saw the nature of the Diploma qualification as both a specialised pathway into undergraduate study and as suitable for a wider range of courses.

Now for the bad news .Although many second tier universities will welcome the Diploma as it stands the higher echelon research universities are less sure. The report by NFER and Exeter University found that ‘ The ‘research intensive’ institutions are more likely to examine closely the academic rigour of Diploma content and less likely to assume that Diploma study will turn out to have been adequate preparation for HE entry . The report also found that ‘The ‘research-intensive’ universities are more likely to examine closely the academic rigour of Diploma content; linked to this, comparatively lower levels of support for Diplomas among academic staff at this early stage were also noted in these universities. By contrast, in ‘teaching-led’ institutions it was reported that there was generally strong internal support for Diplomas. There are clear danger signs here with top universities apparently hedging their bets on the Diploma Moreover the research showed most universities will demand that students take at least one A-level on top of the diploma before being considered.

So, The fact is the best Universities don’t yet buy the Diploma. Pupils taking an engineering diploma will be required to take an A-level in mathematics before being allowed onto a maths degree course at most institutions, the study said. Almost all universities said students would have to take an A-level to top-up the diploma course. It comes despite the fact that one diploma is already said to be worth three and a half A-levels. One university said students taking the new health diploma would also be required to take an A-level in human biology before being considered for a nursing degree. A teenager taking a diploma in media would also have to study A-level English before being admitted to an English degree course. Universities also estimated that only 10 diploma students would be recruited to each institution in 2010 – when most students complete the sixth-form version of the course.

 Tory policy on the Diplomas is that in principle they welcome the vocationally oriented Diplomas though not the academically oriented ones. However they also believe that the Government has badly mishandled their launch- and they don’t view them as the ultimate replacement for GCSEs and A levels .Many Tories also privately express grave reservations over their robustness and costs reinforced by the fact that the independent sector is largely ignoring them. Report.




Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary, has announced new proposals to reform teacher training and help create a new generation of Maths and Science teachers in primary and secondary schools.

 He outlined a series of proposals to improve the training given to trainee teachers. These include: • An end to multiple re-sits – under the current system, trainee teachers can re-sit the literacy and numeracy tests an infinite number of times, which rather destroys their purpose • Upgraded tests – the Initial Teacher Training tests will be made more stretching • Raising the GCSE English and Maths requirements for trainee primary school teachers from C to B and a 2.2 (affectionately known as a Bishop) will be made the minimal acceptable degree for taxpayer-funded PGCE. • There will also be Specialist courses introduced in phonics and in Maths for trainee primary teachers (the Sutton Trust has recently suggested that the Teach First graduate scheme should also be open to Primary teachers) No education system can be better than the teachers in that system.

 Leading education systems in Singapore, South Korea and Finland recruit high quality teachers, the best graduates for the most part, afford them high status, train them well, including support through continuing professional development throughout their careers, reward high performers and also identify poor teachers, removing them.

The Tories have made a start but real improvements in education can only really take place if a number of mutually supportive measures are put in place to transform workforce practice, and to professionalize the teaching profession. One big obstacle to such reform of course lies with at least some of the unions. How to address this remains the Tories biggest challenge.