Politics

Truss V Sunak for PM: What they have promised on schools

From new grammar schools to workplace skills curriculum reform, all the education policies the PM hopefuls have pledged

From new grammar schools to workplace skills curriculum reform, all the education policies the PM hopefuls have pledged

27 Jul 2022, 10:32

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Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are going head-to-head to become the country’s next prime minister.

Conservative party members will vote for a winner over the summer, before the result is announced on September 5.

While not featuring heavily in either hopeful’s early campaigning, school policies are now taking a more central stage, with Truss pitching herself as the “education prime minister”.

Here’s what we know so far (Schools Week will update the piece every time new policies are announced).

1. Sunak: English and maths to 18 under ‘British Bacc’

Rishi Sunak has made a series of education announcements to “put British kids ahead”.

He pledged a new “British Baccalaureate” that would require all pupils to continue to study core subjects like English and maths in sixth form. When asked, his campaign would not provide a full list of subjects.

Sunak’s campaign also said he would support the best academy trusts with an accountability holiday for two years after they take on the “most persistently underperforming schools”. They also said he remained committed to opening the 75 new free schools announced in June.

The campaign also pledged to “build on” the Early Career Framework and improve professional development, giving new teachers more time to “become the best teacher they can be”.

Sunak would also put resources online at the beginning of the school year so teachers can “plan their time easier and don’t waste time travelling back and forth to training”.

The campaign also pledged a new headteacher shadowing programme, and said he would harness AI and digital teaching resources to “reduce teacher workload”.

Under his leadership, the DfE would be given a “new mandate to explore how more digital technology could be used in schools, building on the Oak National Academy, to provide teaching resources, and use AI to reduce workload outside of teaching time”.

2. Truss will replace failing schools with new grammars

Setting out her stall on education, Truss pledged to expand high-performing academies and replace those failing with new free schools and grammars

Truss also promised a “laser-like focus” on improving maths and literacy standards.

She has said that providing “real, long-term opportunities for children means increasing rigour in education – especially in literacy and numeracy – to give children a real chance to reach their full potential”.

The prospect of new selective schools has repeatedly reared its head despite official plans by former prime minister Theresa May to remove the ban being ditched in 2017

Evidence suggests while grammars may stretch brighter pupils, they increase inequality overall as the attainment of other pupils suffers.

Truss told the Conservative Home website: “My two daughters now attend a grammar school, and I want people around the country to have the choice that we have to be able to send our daughters to a grammar school.”

She said it is “about parents and children having the choice of that range of good schools. And the more good schools we have the more choice people have.”

She would aim to get legislation through before the next general election by “making the case to the country that this is the right thing to do, and I will encourage the Lords to support the will of the democratically elected House of Commons”.

The rest of the policies…

  • Truss has pledged to review ‘whether schools are doing enough to educate pupils and teachers about antisemitism’.
  • Sunak has said he backs the “return” of grammar schools, but his team later clarified that he was only talking about supporting expansion in “wholly-selective” areas, though they have not said what they mean by this.
  • Truss has pledged to guarantee Oxbridge interviews for all A-level students with top A-level grades, although there is some confusion about whether she means As or A* grades.
  • Sunak has said he wants to “reform the education curriculum to make sure people are learning the necessary skills for the workplace”, and focus on “making sure no one in any part of the country gets left behind”.
  • Truss has also pledged to look at introducing post-qualification admissions, something the government abandoned earlier this year.
  • Sunak has said he would ask Ofsted to assess the quality of physical education (PE) classes during every school inspection. Inspectors already do deep-dives into PE as part of its usual inspections, but the subject made up just 15 per cent of all secondary school deep dives carried out during 2019-20.
  • He has also signalled a £10 million programme to improve children’s fluency in Mandarin and train more Chinese teachers could face the chop. Sunak has pledged to ban all the 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK, and said almost all government spending on Mandarin language teaching is channelled through these institutes.

What else do we know on schools?

Truss says her comp school ‘let down’ kids

Truss got into hot water after claiming during her campaign launch that “many of the children I was at school with were let down by low expectations, poor educational standards and a lack of opportunity”.

She attended the comprehensive Roundhay School, in west Yorkshire. Former schools minister Nick Gibb is also an alumnus, although the school had recently converted from a grammar school when he joined.

Truss later said the “reason I am a Conservative is that I saw kids at my school being let down in Leeds”. But the comments have been criticised by local leaders, former pupils and staff.

The school was rated ‘satisfactory’ at the time Truss attended, but has since been rated ‘outstanding’.

Sunak ‘grateful’ for private school

In contrast, Sunak has spoken very positively about his schooling at Winchester College – which now costs up to £45,000 per year for boarders – where he was head boy.

He has said the school provided “an amazing opportunity” that he was “grateful” for and “put my life on a different trajectory”.

Sunak and his wife have since donated more than £100,000 to the school.

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