Morgan’s Priorities & No-Thunder Boles: Day One Round-Up of Conservative Conference

The prevailing view among political commentators is that education isn’t a major issue for this election.

If that’s true, the Conservative ministerial team aren’t letting it show. They have a battle narrative and are willing to use it.

In an event jointly hosted by teaching unions NUT and ATL, junior edu-minister Sam Gyimah showed how the battle begins. First, he firmly argued that the government inherited a terrible situation in 2010.

“One third of students left primary school unable to read, write or add up. Children educated during the Labour years the OECD said were the most innumerate or illiterate in the developed world, and this breaks my heart” he opined.

Neither statistic is true, but that didn’t bother him. Making out that four years ago everything was dreadful is key for any politician about to move into the second part of a battle narrative: the success story.

Hence, from the tales of terribleness, Gyimah swiftly moved to the tale of triumph. Since taking power, he said, the government had ensured more students were doing traditional subjects, more were taught in good and outstanding schools, more vulnerable students were funded most generously under the pupil premium. Opponents maligned his stats usage, but those lines were hard to fault.

Across the conference complex, Morgan pushed similar lines at an NASUWT event. But she went one further, speaking of her priorities for the next government.

In a break with recent tradition, Morgan said she’d added a “fifth priority” to the Department for Education’s to-do list. A priority of ensuring students’ “character, resilience, and grit”.

Fans of a broader curriculum cheered, but given that the other four priorities are: better schools, a better workforce, academic standards, and protecting the vulnerable; being a fifth-thought after those is unlikely to mean much of a look in.

Still, it was a notable shift from the “only CORE subjects matter” rhetoric of the Gove years. (A rhetoric which alienated the sizable arts and humanities sector who Morgan would do well to win back).

Earlier today, the national papers trailed other ideas about what might be in Morgan’s speech tomorrow. Compared to Hunt’s speech last week, the guesses sound more specific: apps to help parents communicate with schools; more support for in-school training programmes; and policies for developing leaders. It is hard to know, however, if these projections are what people want to be in the speech rather than what actually will be there.

That said, one policy trailer was given by Nick Boles – Minister for Skills and Enterprise. He told the crowd at an FE Week fringe event to listen out for an announcement on ‘careers advice’. He wouldn’t say more, claiming he didn’t want to steal Morgan’s “thunder”, but the careers advice lobby will have their ears pricked tomorrow.

So will we, and we’ll be tweeting the speech from 14:30 as it happens over on the @AWonlocation timeline. Follow us there to find out what she says in real-time. And come back to the site tomorrow night for a second round-up.


Laura McInerney is now the Editor of Schools Week (formerly Academies Week)

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