With the DfE's attention focusing in on the battle over tuition fees, will schools escape unnoticed?

Not quite, is the simple answer. But they may get away with considerably less structural change, writes the Tes head of content

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What does the new regime in the Department for Education mean in practice for schools?

It would be easy to say that it is too early to say. After all, the all-important advisers and media bods who normally surround high-ranking politicians are yet to be appointed.

But while this normally takes a quick vetting from No 10, this time around it’s proving to be a long drawn-out process. Everyone involved, I’m told, recognises that the stakes are high: these appointments must be right.

At stake is the relationship between Downing Street and the new education secretary Damian Hinds over a number of contentious issues, not least of all what to do about university and FE tuition fees.

Incredibly, given that this is a Conservative government, there are many within Theresa May’s team who would like to see the whole fees system scrapped and universities made free: while there are others in the Treasury and in the DfE who think this is insane politicking by a PM who thinks (wrongly) that she can win over a chunk of the student vote that changed everything for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017. Other ideas include organising different HE and FE institutions into tiers and allowing them to charge different fee levels.

Anyway, none of this has much to do with schools, except to illustrate where the Whitehall policy focus will be: university fees first, FE second (because we need to sort the skills crisis urgently or Brexit will be a disaster), and only in third place will come schools.

They will most certainly be the subject of political attention: No 10 is very keen to benefit politically from what they plan to present as a big hike in standards – but it’s unlikely schools will be subject to major structural reform.

All of which also makes sense of the reappointment of Nick Gibb (again!) as minister of state for schools standards last week.

The Great Survivor has made it clear that after the extraordinary period of turmoil that came with Govian curriculum, testing and exam reforms, should come a period of bedding in (save for the introduction of some lovely times-table tests in Year 5). He wants to spend the next year or two making these changes as irreversible as humanly possible.

So what price Justine Greening’s Social Mobility Action Plan and proposed reforms of QTS, announced to much fanfare at the end of last year? Will they survive? Since they’re all relatively sensible, a wise manoeuvre for Damian Hinds might be to nod them through: then turn his attention back to the in-tray marked “University reforms”.

But that might be too much for schools to hope for: it would represent the Greening Continuity.

Ed Dorrell is head of content at Tes. He tweets @Ed_Dorrell

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