As a general election in 2019 looks ever more likely, the Conservative education pitch is likely to centre on a promise to pump £7 billion into the schools system over the next three years.
Sources close to education secretary Gavin Williamson also point to clear differences between Labour and the Conservatives on their policies towards Ofsted, private schools, free schools and academies, claiming "it's a proper ideological divide".
Ahead of a Tory manifesto being produced, with speculation about what it may contain already growing, here’s what we already know about current Conservative schools policy.
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In the week before the new academic year began in 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson announced a “giant £14 billion” school funding boost, which actually only amounts £7.1 billion when you disregard the double and triple counting, but it is still enough to reverse the real-terms cuts since 2010, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Schools funding, or lack of it, was identified as a liability at the 2017 general election, after which a survey found that 750,000 voters switched their votes as a result of school funding policy.
But the recent funding announcement, as well as an extra £4.4 billion over three years to cover the rise in teacher pension costs, is likely to form a key part of the forthcoming Conservative election manifesto, a Conservative source said.
While analysts have said Labour plans to abolish Ofsted could damage their election hopes, the Conservatives will stick firmly with the inspectorate.
A source close to Gavin Williamson told Tes: “The key thing is that Ofsted is trusted by parents. It’s one of the first tools parents turn to from the very start. Even before they have kids, when buying a house , they look at the Ofsted grade of the local nursery school.”
The prime minister’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester last month criticised Labour plans to replace Ofsted as a “damaging and retrograde idea.”
The PM said of Jeremy Corbyn: “He wants to stamp out excellence in schools by banning Ofsted – the inspectors who ensure that schools are safe for our children.”
You could be forgiven for thinking an election was on the horizon when the education secretary appeared on BBC Breakfast this week to announce a £400 million fund (the Condition Improvement Fund) for academies and sixth-form colleges to improve and expand their buildings.
What’s more, Mr Williamson announced that academies must "show restraint on executive salaries" in order to be in with a chance of receiving cash – another policy which may go down well with voters disenchanted by huge MAT boss salaries and parents bemused that their child’s headteacher earns more than the prime minister.
Boris Johnson has recently pledged to create thousands more free school places and last month called on parents, educational groups and community organisations to come together to set up brand new free schools.
Announcing the fourteenth wave of free-school applications since 2010, Mr Johnson said: “Free schools help to ensure children are getting the best education possible – offering exceptional teaching, encouraging strong discipline and providing families with more choices.
“I want to see even more of these excellent schools open, particularly in areas most in need of more good and outstanding school places.”
But critics say that out of the 500 free schools across the country opened since 2010, there are almost 70 “orphan schools” that do not have a sponsor, while a total of 23 free schools have had to close owing to “serious failings.”
Contrary to speculation, a source close to Gavin Williamson today told Tes there would not be a change in Conservative policy towards grammar schools, but instead a continuation of existing policy: a £200 million grammar expansion fund.
The source said: “Existing grammar schools can apply to expand if they’re interested in doing so – which is the current policy – but there is definitely not going to be a roll-out of grammar schools.”
There is also a pledged increase in teacher starting salaries by around £6,000 per annum to £30K which may be a vote winner among the profession, especially as teachers higher up the pay scale are being told they will see their salaries “levelled up” at the same time.