This manifesto is essentially about making schools cheaper to run and easier to control. The only saving grace is there’s no target on grammar schools.
Let’s run through the problems we have in education, then I shall explain why.
First, we are halfway through moving from a local authority-led system to a MAT-led system. The Education Funding Agency and the Department for Education aren’t coping with the workload this is producing.
Second, there is a crisis in recruitment. In my area alone, there are schools advertising for teachers and not getting a single applicant.
Third, everyone knows schools are at least £3 billion in the hole. Even Nick Gibb can be dragged to this conclusion, albeit kicking and screaming. We also have general agreement that the fair funding plan is in trouble.
These were generated on this government’s watch. So how does the Conservative manifesto address them?
Structures remain a mess
There is no over-arching aim with regards to structures. It is clear they really don’t know what to do with the mess of a system they have created. Perhaps, at best, there is space here for some sensible ideas brought forward by sensible people.
Loan repayment is miserly
On teacher recruitment, there is a half-hearted nod towards student loan relief. But this is only relief of the payments whilst they are teachers, not relief of the loan capital itself. This is a miserly initiative. Yet I’m sure many will laud it.
New key stage 3 accountability measure hinted at
On the curriculum there are some strange bits. “We will expect every 11-year-old to know their times table off by heart”. This is a rallying cry to the Tory heartlands where the only bit of maths they can remember is times tables.
Everyone who knows anything about schools knows what will happen because of this. There is a clear hint at some form of accountability measure being reintroduced at key stage 3.
With the move towards 90 per cent of students studying the EBacc by 2025, the result will be an imposition of uniformity and the narrowing of the curriculum. This is about a centralisation of control over the school curriculum.
More pre-packed lessons, not more time
There is a statement about using technology to reduce teacher workload: “We will provide greater support for teachers in the preparation of lessons and marking”.
Now, I’m fairly sure this won’t include an entitlement to greater planning time, so it looks like a reference to greater availability of pre-packed lessons.
There are no give-aways
There is no new money. Yes, there is up to £600 million freed up from scrapping universal free infant school meals and a few hundred million cobbled together by “efficiency” raids on other education budgets. This just about brings an extra £1 billion a year by the end of the parliament. Which leaves us £2 billion adrift.
The manifesto talks about making funding fairer over the course of the parliament, but there is no new money attached to this either. It also talks about the “real terms increase” in the budget without mentioning the real-terms increase in pupil numbers.
As anyone who knows their times tables will be able to tell, that amounts to real terms cut in funding – and no amount of weasel words can hide that.
At least there’s no ‘a-grammar-school-in-every-town’
Of course, the standout policy is the regression to selective education, with a pathetic attempt to portray this as evidence-led policy. The one saving grace here is the Conservatives have not stuck a number on this desire for selective schools. No “one-grammar-school-in-every-town” type of pledge.
Overall, there is not a lot here we didn’t expect. No more money. No support towards a more coherent structure, and further attacks on school and teacher autonomy. Everything here is geared towards making schools cheaper to run and easier to control.