General election: the Tory manifesto and education

What could we expect from a Conservative election manifesto? Ed Dorrell has been testing the water

Ed Dorrell

boris £14m pledge

Deal, no deal, or further delay, Boris Johnson is very clearly gearing up for an election. Which means one thing for schools: there’s a manifesto in the offing.
And it just so happens that it is being co-authored by Rachel Wolf, former Michael Gove adviser, former director of the New School Network and former head of education in David Cameron’s Downing Street. Her partner in the endeavour is Munira Mirza, Johnson’s head of policy and former vice-mayor for education when he ran London.
As such, it’s a safe bet therefore that education will play a central role in any new Conservative manifesto. As I have written before, the wider Gove-ian diaspora is central to the policy team around Johnson, including the now-famous Dominic Cummings.
So what might that manifesto look like? Having spoken to people in and around that network of Gove-ites, I believe that while it may have a whiff of Gove about it, it could be different in a few of significant ways.
There will be a commitment to both free schools and academic “rigour” – that much is inevitable. As I have also previously written, there will probably also be a renewed commitment to Ofsted in a bid to contrast with Labour’s promise to abolish the inspectorate – and thus attract the parental vote. So much, so obvious.
But then it gets interesting. What about the independent sector? How should Johnson’s manifesto respond to Corbyn’s plans to force all private schools to become comprehensives?
It seems likely that as well as making a point of celebrating Eton, Harrow, and the rest, as world class, Johnson’s manifesto will look to “democratise access” by reintroducing something similar to the Assisted Places scheme abolished by Labour in 1997 or the Sutton Trust’s Open Access project, both of which aimed to make an education at big public schools available to more children.
And then it gets really interesting. What about selection? How far will it go? Theresa May’s 2017 manifesto went the whole hog and called for the return of grammar schools. Would a Johnson manifesto do like-wise? It’s likely in the balance. Certainly Cummings is an elitist, and Johnson has written in the past of his support for the 11-plus, so it’s a distinct possibility. Watch this space.
I would expect other examples of selection to feature. For example, Cummings and Wolf are both fans of “elitist” Stem and maths focussed sixth form colleges. Selection at 16 is already legal, and so introducing more of these schools would not need the primary legislation required to reintroduce the 11-plus. They are also easy to explain politically.
Inevitably any manifesto will be heavy on the government’s commitment to education funding, but the rest is fascinating. With Wolf and Mirza at its helm, the new Tory manifesto could prove to be be truly radical.
You have been warned.

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Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell is deputy editor and head of content at the TES, former features and comment editor and former news editor. 

Find me on Twitter @Ed_Dorrell

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