7 tips on what schools can expect under a Tory majority

Tes reveals what the newly elected Conservative government is likely to mean in practice for education

Conservatives announce £1.8bn for college buildings

Tes has been speaking to those close to the newly elected Johnson government for an insight into what teachers can expect on education over the next Parliament.

The Conservative manifesto was fairly thin on major new schools policies but here are seven things to look out for from Boris Johnson’s new administration.


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Education run from Downing Street?

A striking feature of the team around Boris Johnson when he first moved into 10 Downing Street is the number of senior policy staff with a background in education.

First, Dominic Cummings , who is seen as a de facto chief of staff and who has been credited or blamed for pretty much everything that has gone right or wrong for Johnson since he became PM.

His background in education needs no introduction as he was a high-profile and controversial adviser for then education secretary Michael Gove in the coalition government.

The former deputy London mayor for education Munira Mirza was appointed head of policy in Downing Street and former Gove speechwriter and City Hall free school boss Elena Narozanski was made No 10’s head of education earlier this year.

If this team remains in place, it is difficult to imagine that they will not make their presence felt on education policy.

Boost for free schools programme

Unlike in the previous two election campaigns the Conservative Party manifesto did not include a target for the number of free schools it wanted to open over the course of the next Parliament.

However, one of the first announcements Boris Johnson made after becoming Prime Minister earlier this year was a renewed commitment to opening more free schools.

In recent years, the free schools programme has been used to provide extra capacity to cope with bulge in pupil numbers and there has also been a move towards established multi-academy trusts opening extra schools rather than new groups coming.

However, as the demand for places drops, there is a hope in Conservative policy circles that the programme will now return to its original vision as a way of promoting innovation and bringing new people into the system.

There is also hope that the success of the Tory Party at winning seats in traditional Labour heartlands might boost the ambition to open more free schools in the Midlands and the North.

Teacher workload, recruitment and retention

This is an area that the previous education secretary Damian Hinds made a priority with the launch of a recruitment and retention strategy and the development of an Early Career Framework to support staff as they go through their first years in the profession.

The latest set of teacher recruitment figures shows this is not an issue that is going away anytime soon.

The party has already committed to strengthening Ofsted – and has even suggested no-notice inspections – something that, on the face of it, could make matters worse.

Whether politicians like it or not, this is an issue that the Department for Education will have to tackle and it will be interesting to see whether any new plans emerge over the next five years.

Things might not change for the ‘forgotten third’

One area that school leaders – including the Association of School and College Leaders’ general secretary Geoff Barton – have been highlighting is the way in which they feel the exams system is failing the forgotten third.

Mr Barton has questioned the effects of the current system of comparable outcomes, which means that exam results are held steady to ensure consistency from one year to the next.

As he points out, this means that around a third of GCSE pupils are condemned to miss out on a grade 4 in English and maths every year.

He is calling for a rethink of our examinations and assessment system. But there is an expectation that this will not find favour with the new government.

Once source told Tes that a government staffed by a team who are “Goveites” will not be sympathetic to an argument that some pupils aren’t well equipped to do the GCSEs .

Another push on new grammar schools?

The Conservatives winning the majority they failed to secure two years ago raises the question of whether this will mean a return to Theresa May’s plan to open new grammar schools.

It is policy close to many Conservative politicians hearts but several sources have told Tes that they do not expect to see a major push for new selective state schools from the government.

There was no commitment for this in the manifesto and there is a feeling that it could galvanise opposition.

Sources suggest we might expect to see tinkering around the funding for extensions or satellite applications from grammar schools but it is not a policy area that has been under serious discussion.

And although grammar schools are popular with the traditional Right of the party, there is a sense that the size of the new government’s majority means Mr Johnson doesn't need to appease particular wings of its party on education – or, for that matter, Brexit or anything else.

Full academisation

Where there appears to be more appetite to return to a headline policy is on academies.

The Conservatives have previously stepped back from a commitment to ensure all schools become academies but the party is now expected to look at ways in which it can move the system in that direction.

The government has already set up the Falcon Education Academies Trust to take on schools that nobody else wants. It is expected to look at how it can convert more of the remaining maintained schools into academies without making this compulsory.

Such moves would be in line with the Confederation of School Trusts, which has called for all schools to be run by trusts by 2030.

Reshuffle expected

Gavin Williamson  was only appointed as education secretary six months ago but there is an expectation that MrJohnson could carry out a major reshuffle of his cabinet after the end of January when the country has exited the European Union.

If this is the case, it would be expected that Mr Williamson would definitely be reappointed in the short-term but could be moved on in February.

However, it is also worth noting that Mr Williamson played a key role in Mr Johnson’s leadership bid and it is also understood that he wants to remain in this post.

Whatever happens next, the general election has triggered the need for at least one change in Sanctuary Buildings. Mr Williamson’s special adviser Richard Holden has been elected as MP for North West Durham, winning the seat from Labour. So, if the education secretary does return he will need a new Spad.

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