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Let's not forget the OTHER major policy scrap in Whitehall

Brexit may be hogging the headlines, but there's another battle taking place that will have a big effect on schools

Colleges still have a fight on their hands to get more funding in the government spending review, writes Stephen Exley

Brexit may be hogging the headlines, but there's another battle taking place that will have a big effect on schools

There’s everything to play for.

The picture is constantly changing.

Different establishment factions in the Westminster bubble are circling each other suspiciously.

Unholy alliances are being made and broken on a daily basis.

A strong female leader who promised stability when she took office is ushering in a draft policy that promises to change everything we’ve become used to.

Some want the plan delayed. Others want it scrapped. Few senior figures are prepared to give the proposal their full, unconditional public backing.

Sound familiar?

Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about Amanda Spielman’s plans for a new Ofsted inspection framework.

While most politicians and national journalists are distracted by the little matter of the UK’s place in Europe and the wider world, this alternative high-octane political battle is also going on in Whitehall. And, similarly, nobody is blinking.

Opposition mounts

At stake is the future of Spielman’s plan to completely overhaul the way inspection works, refocusing it on the quality of education and curriculum while reducing the emphasis on data and results.

The new framework, as it is currently proposed, is due to go to public consultation in January and to be implemented in September, but has an improbable coalition ranged against it in the form of the NAHT headteachers' union and several high-powered multi-academy trust chief executives.

Few are prepared to damn the spirit of the reforms – who would truly object to lessening the stranglehold of results over schools? But many worry about the readiness of schools to react to the reforms, the ability of the inspection workforce to navigate something so subjective and the impact of such a radical change on teacher workload.

Many opponents simply want to see the reforms delayed to allow for greater preparation time; others want to see the idea scrapped altogether.

Three possible outcomes

Spielman and the people around her are undoubtedly feeling the pressure, but they are determined to plough ahead, worried that if they pause, other external factors, including next year’s Comprehensive Spending Review, would kill off the idea altogether.

So what could force them to delay or change direction?

Obviously, if education secretary Damian Hinds and his Department for Education, which are privately worried about the impact of the new framework, broke cover and formally intervened, that could lead to a real, and public, crisis.

But there’s also the influential Association of School and College Leaders, which is yet to take a strong public position on Spielman’s plans and may yet oppose them.

If either of these happened, or both, it would cause one hell of a problem for Ofsted and possibly derail the whole idea.

Like Brexit, there are three possible outcomes, none of which will satisfy everyone: the framework is forced through as is, and on the timescale currently proposed; a delay to its implementation is agreed; or we remain as we are.

Ed Dorrell is head of content at Tes

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