There are the challenges of securing sufficient places, teachers and funding, but with a majority government and an experienced secretary of state, the government has an extraordinary opportunity to push through bold education reforms
The election has given David Cameron and his government an enormous boost. Not only have they managed to secure a majority, but Cameron is now the fourth longest-serving Conservative leader in recent history, as well as the first sitting prime minister to increase his party’s vote share since 1955. This gives the government a real opportunity to continue their agenda of reform. In education, the reappointment of Nicky Morgan, who now has almost a year’s experience, shows a desire to further build on and develop the reforms of the last government.
Broad pledges in the manifesto could be taken much further
There are unquestionably things that need to be implemented from the last parliament – for example, on curriculum and assessment – as well as challenges around recruiting enough teachers in an improving economy, creating enough school places, and dealing with tighter budgets. But the Conservatives would be wrong if they thought that this meant that “steady as she goes” is all they could or should aim to do over the next five years. Second terms are traditionally when governments hit the accelerator – consider the privatisation of British Telecom in the second Thatcher term, or the bold moves on reforming health and education and welfare under Blair in the 2001-2005 parliament.
A second term Conservative Department for Education (DfE) will start with the implementation of their manifesto, meaning academisation for all under-performing schools, key stage 2 resits for children below the floor standards in English and maths at the end of primary school, and compulsory EBacc at GCSE. Yet these broad manifesto pledges could be built on and taken much further. Academisation could well be developed along the lines recommended by Policy Exchange last year, meaning every school converting in an organised programme over the next five years and, for primaries, federating with other schools in a manner of their choosing.
Nicky Morgan and her team may also look to make changes to how our whole system is overseen and managed through further development of the regional schools commissioners. It could address teacher supply by paying off student loans for new entrants while they remain teaching, and offering housing, transport and childcare packages to attract staff to more challenging areas. Five hundred new free schools will offer greater choice to parents, and should continue to be set up wherever there is demand and a high quality bid is presented.
A second term Conservative government could also make bold moves to reform Ofsted, perhaps giving schools a greater role in their oversight through peer review, combined with a slimmer framework of one judgment of quality and one judgment of capacity to improve, as we suggested in our report last year. And schools could be supported to manage these new demands by the DfE finally introducing the long-awaited national funding formula, with as generous protection for losing schools as the department can wring out of the Treasury during the Spending Review.
In wider children’s services, the DfE might look to offer schools greater control over other services including youth, children’s social care and mental health – similar to Labour’s Every Child Matters agenda but more clearly (as successfully shown in Harlem) under the management and budgetary control of the school as the universal children’s service.
In early years, the 30-hour childcare pledge may well be developed into a wider childcare offer, with a new push on quality as well as quantity of places. This may lead to a large increase in the number of school-based nursery places, strengthened changes to the admissions code to allow poorer children to move from nursery to school across one setting, as well as moves to allow stronger providers to take over weaker to offer greater contestability in the market.