Life picked up again this week after the general election.
For education that’s meant three things. First, thinking about the new political reality in which education now operates. Second, considering what the priorities might, or perhaps should, be for the incoming government. And third, getting back to ‘normal’ business, the sort announced in the latest Queen’s Speech.
Let’s start with the first of these: the new political climate. With the same Ministerial team filing back to their desks, at least for the moment, it may not seem like much of a new climate. Nor has the agenda changed a lot. Funding, as ever, remains the big issue and each sector will be watching keenly to see when funding promises are met. Away from funding, there’s the familiar 3As of school accountability, the apprenticeship levy, and the Augar recommendations, all needing attention.
Yet things may change for three reasons. First, as many commentators have noted, the Conservatives have swept up a new core vote in northern towns, making it as Rob Halfon suggested ‘the Workers Party,’ likely for example to be more interested in priorities such as skills training. Second, the new intake of MPs is more diverse than ever before, more females, more from ethnic backgrounds and more, as the Sutton Trust revealed, from a comprehensive school background. And third, the machinery of government may change, probably post-January 31 with new departments likely to include one leading on business, energy, trade, industrial strategy including skills; the Bedsit dept, as the FT dubbed it.
Next, what have education ‘experts’ been saying about future priorities? For HE, Nick Hillman suggested that funding for teaching might be tough, but that for research better. Also that the government might act swiftly in two areas: low-value courses and campus free speech. For FE, AoC’s David Hughes reckoned that a lot will depend on funding but future skills training, Institutes of Technology and a coherent post-18 strategy should all be up there. And for schools, the TES highlighted a number of possible things to look out for, including a further push on system reform notably with more free schools, teacher workload, the 2Rs of recruitment and retention, and providing for the ‘forgotten third’ of low achievers.
Finally, then, back to business and what the Queen’s Speech had to say about future priorities. For education, there was little that was new: levelling up school funding, consultation to enable Ofsted to inspect outstanding schools, support for skills provision and local growth, value for money in post-18 provision and sustainable HE funding. It’s what happens next that counts.