Is no government better than bad government? We’ll find out

16th June 2017 at 00:00
No major shake-ups, controversial decisions or unpopular policies – the general election result could be music to the ears of many in the sector

It is one of those “fun facts” that people like to bandy around in times of political turbulence: in a 15-month period in 2010-11 during which Belgium had no functioning government, its economy grew faster than Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Finland and Switzerland. This interregnum, which was replicated in Spain in 2015, provides an anecdote oft-used by those who like to dismiss politicians and their work.

It’s easy to understand such a position – especially from a schools perspective. It is near impossible to travel anywhere in education without stumbling across a teacher demanding the “depoliticisation of schools”.

“Why don’t they leave it to the experts: those at the chalkface?” they angrily ask – suggesting that most of education’s failings are down to politicians wading in to exams, accountability, or worst of all, pedagogy.

Such educationists are about to see their ships come in. The kind of reduction in government activity they so desire is likely to be a consequence of the failure of Theresa May to win the big majority nearly everyone predicted.

A period of relative calm

The government-in-near-stasis that resulted from this historic fiasco is unlikely to be able to force through any major reforms – or risk rubbing anyone up the wrong way. That includes pretty much everything in education, not least the plans to allow for the opening of new grammar schools.

Add to this the likely withering of the proposals to force universities and big public schools to run state schools and you have a period of relative calm in store for education – as Sam Freedman and Rachel Wolf, both former Conservative advisers, have predicted in this week’s Tes.

I know one primary teacher who will be pleased. She voted for the Conservative Party last week, not because she likes their polices (she hates them), but because she was worried that a Labour administration would want to start over again. “I just can’t face any more reform,” she explained. Better the devil you know.

As if a break from political interference weren’t enough good news for schools, another fall-out from the election is likely to be an improvement in the outlook funding. If widespread rumours are to be believed, Mrs May has admitted that voters have had enough of austerity – it’s now time to shake the money tree and see what fruit it gives up.

The next few months look like a good opportunity for heads and teachers to draw breath. Poke your head above the battlements and take a look around. Make yourself a brew and see if you can, for example, make Michael Gove’s new exam system, Progress 8 or the new-look primary assessments work for your pupils.

(Do watch out for any symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, however.)

Like all periods of peace, it won’t last for ever. Once the government has sorted itself out, politicians will start poking around again.

When that happens, teachers must be ready to own the agenda – they must come armed with their own plans: as Professor Steve Higgins writes in today’s cover feature, last week’s result is an opportunity for education to reset the educational button.

And as newly anointed ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton wrote last week, teachers may be able to use the political chaos to take greater ownership of the schools sector. It is just possible that, out of the chaos, a more self-sufficient profession might emerge.


@Ed_Dorrell

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