Queen’s speech: School leaders welcome axing of new grammar schools

Geoff Barton.

School leaders have welcomed the omission of major new education policies from the Queen’s speech, which they say mean schools can now focus on “getting the basics right”.

Prime minister Theresa May omitted key education manifesto pledges from the Queen’s speech today – meaning schools can expect no new major policy changes in the next two years.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told Schools Week it’s “good news” and “signals a breathing space for a sector which has gone through far too many reforms in recent years”.

He said: “Schools and colleges will be relieved that there are no immediate plans to introduce further reforms in a sector which has had more than its fair share of change and badly needs a breathing space.”

However Barton said he is “concerned” to see that government still intends to bring forward “unspecified proposals during the course of the parliament”.

In further details, sent separately to the speech, the government said it wants “every child to go to a good or outstanding school”, adding: “We will look at all options and work with Parliament to bring forward proposals that can command a majority.”

“We want to make sure all children, regardless of where they live or their background, can get a world-class education that unlocks talent and creates opportunity. We want to make Britain the world’s Great Meritocracy: a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow, where advantage is based on merit not privilege.”

But Barton added: “We sincerely hope that this is not an attempt to revive its plans to expand the number of selective schools in England. This policy is a dangerous distraction from the really important issues of funding and teacher supply and it should be consigned to history.”

It could mean the government will look to introduce a watered-down grammars policy, such as a ‘modest pilot’ of grammar schools as suggested by influential Conservative MP Graham Brady.

“offering great opportunities to people from lower income backgrounds”.

However a Department for Education source has emphatically denied the concerns, insisting that grammar schools will not go ahead in any form.

Sigh of relief for school leaders

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said the election showed the public failed to endorse many of the Conservative’s more controversial policy ideas, adding “it is right these policies are dropped”.

“School leaders would give a sigh of relief to an end, at least for now, to distracting structural reforms and continual tinkering.

“There is now an opportunity to focus on getting the basics right – enough highly qualified teachers, sufficient funding and an accountability system that is fair to schools and pupils alike.”

But Louis Coiffait, head of education at Reform think tank, said while schools may think politicians “finally leaving them alone to do what they do best” is a good thing, he said many school leaders aren’t happy with the current system, with stand-along schools “particularly vulnerable”.

“If a school-led system is going to actually take the lead, then it needs to start working together much more.”

However Mark Lehain, director of the education reform group Parents and Teachers for Excellence (PTE), said the government still has “plenty to be getting on with”.

“Some of the most important things for the education sector, such as the curriculum ideas that were discussed in the Conservative manifesto, don’t actually need to be primary legislation, so many of the great educational issues of the day can move forward regardless.”

Curriculum proposals included every 11-year-old to know their times tables off by heart, improving schools’ accountability at key stage 3, and expecting 75 per cent of pupils to have entered the EBacc by the end of the next parliament.




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