'If you look at Justine Greening's social mobility plan through the prism of Brexit, it becomes both honest and interesting'

14th December 2017 at 11:06
It's also worth remembering that the Conservatives are not about to discover a 'magic money tree'

There aren’t any fireworks or dancing girls, and not many bells or whistles either: Justine Greening’s new social mobility action plan (officially titled Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential) is an honest effort to pull together a whole host of existing and trailed education policies – and to give them a narrative.

There is, however, the sniff of something a little more interesting than this rather understated goal: this is solid, sensible policy – note the absence of thousands of new grammar schools – but seen through the prism of Brexit it does become rather thought-provoking.

This is a document produced by an education secretary and a set of policy wonks who have taken an almost apolitical approach to the challenges faced by the country as it attempts to both leave the EU and then reinvent itself. All without the help of a magic money tree.

'National reforms'

The focus on “place” is to be welcomed, as is the focus on areas of the country that need special care and attention – hence the entire reconfiguring of the strategy around free schools. The overlap between these areas and those that voted heavily for Brexit need hardly be pointed out.

This is important: “Our national reforms to date have been fundamental to raising standards, but we now need to reflect that their impact has as yet been unevenly felt. And, due in part to their demand-led nature, they have meant that at times, resource and capacity has tended to flow to areas that are already ahead and able to push for more.”

Other policies that dovetail with this include new attempts to resolve the recruitment and retention crisis in “challenging areas” – ministers are planning to pilot a new targeted student loan reimbursement scheme – while the action plan also explains that Teach First will “increase its focus on more challenging areas”.

Focus on FE

Perhaps the most striking language in the document is saved for the section devoted to FE and skills.

“The hard work and dedication of teachers and college leaders has not been matched by successive governments, who have overlooked further education. This is a major problem, given that the sector disproportionately serves students from disadvantaged backgrounds and challenging areas.”

Talk about a mea culpa.

Justine Greening is hardly the first politician to point out that that FE cannot be kept as a poor relation of post-Brexit Britain is to boom – but the language is strong and the commitment is stark.

Truly, this is not politics with a capital P – it’s about as far removed from a New Labour or Cameroonian green paper as it’s possible to get. But given the New Reality – Brexit plus shrinking budgets – it is eminently sensible policy.

Ed Dorrell is the head of content at Tes

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