The four major education crises facing the Conservatives as they gather in Manchester

3rd October 2015 at 11:08
picture of nicky morgan
As the Conservatives prepare for their first post-election conference, TES deputy editor Ed Dorrell looks into his crystal ball

At this point in the last electoral cycle, we were looking ahead to a period of extraordinary ideologically-driven education reform. Michael Gove and his small but efficient unit of political stormtroopers were wresting control of the Department for Education, and had already passed the 2010 Education Act, opening the way for mass conversions to academy status. The Bonfire of the Quangos was already spreading like wildfire.

And already in the pipeline was a period of wholesale reforms to exams, curriculum and teacher pay and conditions.

Jump forward five years and we are again expecting a period of major upheaval. There might be a majority Conservative government in place, but this does not mean we're looking at another surge of ideological reform; gazing into our crystal ball, we can be sure that the next few years is going to be all about crisis management.

As the Tories gather in Manchester, what are the major issues repeatedly appearing in the in-tray of their still relatively new education secretary Nicky Morgan?

There are four oh-so-tricky areas that could trip her up.

First up, the teacher supply crisis. Much has been written about this, but suffice to say, things are getting desperate out there and the Ucas figures released on Thursday about this term's New trainees suggest it could get even worse.

Second, and related, is the pupil surge. Between now and the 2020 election, it is estimated that England will need an extra 900,000 school places. Where they're going to come from is anyone's guess, but expect class sizes to rapidly grow and a mushrooming of so-called titan schools.

Next up are the repercussions of Gove's rushed raft of exam reforms. With the first cohort of students starting the new, harder GCSEs in English and maths this term and the rest of the subjects to follow in the next year or two, one veteran observer of the exam system commented in private the other day that most school leaders have no idea how difficult things are going to get. We could be facing a period of exam controversy after exam controversy.

Last, but certainly not least, are budget cuts. These are going to be bigger and deeper than many schools leaders, and certainly most parents, realise. With George Osborne in the later stages of planning November's Comprehensive Spending Review, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has said that schools are looking of budget tightening in the region of 12 per cent. But as respected educationist Sir Tim Brighouse pointed out in Friday's TES, if you combine that with projections of what a reformed funding formula might look like, some inner-city heads are staring down the barrel of cuts of 25 per cent. To be clear, that's the equivalent of laying off 50 teachers for the average secondary.

Of course, all of these issues are intrinsically linked. If there isn't enough money to provide the schools, or train the teachers, to deliver the Ebac suite of reformed GCSEs or the new, harder Sats, then the whole house of cards could come tumbling down. And it's not as if the foundations dug by Gove's merry band of impatient reformers were exactly deep.

So Ms Morgan's political reputation depends on successfully securing the legacy of her predecessor. If the general state of education is not seen by Labour as a useful tool with which to beat the Tories during the 2020 election, she'll have done very, very well.


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