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'Education will benefit from Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill's demise'

Theresa May's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stepped down last week – and plans to increase selection and scrap free school lunches look likely to follow them out of the door, writes celebrated journalist Richard Garner

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Theresa May's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stepped down last week – and plans to increase selection and scrap free school lunches look likely to follow them out of the door, writes celebrated journalist Richard Garner

So, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead – a cause for celebration in our schools!

Actually, it's the demise of Rosencrantz (or was it Guildenstern? I'm not good with names) amongst Ms May's faceless advisers that will be of most interest to those in the education world.

Rosencrantz – or to give him his proper name, Nick Timothy – was the main architect of Theresa May's controversial proposal to lift the ban on creating more grammar schools.

No more will he be gnawing at her elbow, urging her to stick with the plan. Both he and Fiona Hill, pictured together, (the Guildenstern of this piece), Ms May's other senior adviser, were forced to fall on their swords at the weekend over the calamitous handling of the Conservative Party's manifesto during the election.

His departure, plus the Conservatives' inability to gain a Commons majority in the election, point to selection being put on the back-burner – at least for now.  Thank goodness.

Actually, there are two other signs that the proposal will be ditched.  Graham Brady, the Conservative MP who has led the campaign for a return to selection within the Government, conceded that the plan would be dropped in its original form.

"If we can't go ahead with it, we won't do it," he said in a television interview over the weekend. Also, the return of Justine Greening to the education portfolio indicates a similar conclusion. 

It was an open secret that she was not, at the very least, as committed to the project as Ms May – finding it difficult to speak enthusiastically in favour of it. When Conservatives were eyeing up a mouthwatering 80-seat majority in the new Parliament, there was talk that she might be replaced with a more pro-grammar school appointee. She hasn't been.

We can't completely relax, though. Mr Brady, in his interview, held out the prospect of a much smaller commitment – a pilot project to test the effect of the idea. We could do without that, too.


The other point of interest on the education front is whether Ms May goes ahead with the plan to scrap free lunches for all five to seven-year-olds. It's yet another proposal that was thought to have gone down badly with the electorate in spite of the Tories' insistence that these meals would be replaced with free breakfasts being made available for everyone. It was believed that free breakfasts would be cheaper to provide and would, therefore, free up cash to reduce the impact of the cut in per-pupil funding for schools that appealed to Mrs May and her supporters. 

Well, watch this space. I imagine the Conservatives will be anxious to limit the effects of the cut in per-pupil funding as Labour's pro-public spending manifesto won massive support during the election campaign. Ms May has already indicated that austerity may be a thing of the past.

And what of the other education election issue to emerge during the campaign, university tuition fees? I'm afraid students will be stuck with them. It was only a feature of Labour's campaign. 

Students, however, did deliver a warning of what can happen if a politician performs a U-turn to support a rise in fees. It may have been six years after the event but Nick Clegg lost his seat at the last election as the youth vote came out in force. Once that had happened, his chances looked slim. His constituency, Sheffield Hallam, has among the highest percentage of public service employees and students in the country.  Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.

Note: Going back to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, you may think the person who employed them was more deserving of the chop than her underlings. You might say that, but I couldn't possibly comment.

Richard Garner was education editor of The Independent for 12 years, and previously news editor of Tes. He has been writing about education for more than three decades.

To read more columns by Richard, view his back catalogue.

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