We wait on Downing Street's whim: which parts of the schools' Green Paper will be left on the cutting-room floor?

12th April 2017 at 13:31
The education sector holds its breath for the schools' White Paper as profound policy decisions are made behind closed doors

Many education sector types are twitchy right now. They are on edge, waiting for the imminent publication of the schools White Paper.

What are they expecting? At the start of this process last summer, with the publication of the now much-discussed Green Paper, Schools That Work for Everyone, most seasoned observers thought it so radical and so ill-thought-out that most of it would ultimately end up on the cutting room floor.

Put simply, there were three strands to the Green Paper: the proposals to encourage more new grammar schools, the plans to threaten independent schools with the loss of their charitable status if they don’t set up and sponsor academies, and plans to force universities to do likewise.

It was near-impossible to find anyone who thought the idea of more grammars was a good idea, and while there are many more who are happy to bash the indies and the unis, there aren't many who think they are in any way qualified to advise the maintained sector, let alone run a school.

But the idea that pragmatism would win out and that the government would see sense now looks overly optimistic.

Whitehall is awash with rumours that the Green Paper looks set to be reproduced lock, stock and barrel in the White Paper: with legislation to follow.

Is it full steam ahead with grammar schools?

As I’ve written before, I expect that most of the proposals for more selection will survive, including allowing existing schools to convert to grammar status, so that leaves the HE and indie sectors.

One Whitehall veteran told me that he would expect the government to give ground on at least one aspect of the Green Paper – otherwise it would risk making the very big and very public consultation look like a total waste of time. So which will it be? Assuming Downing Street – which is very much in the driving seat on this – is unwilling to give up on any part of its selection plans, it’s pretty much got to be HE or the independent sector.

I know only one thing for certain: private schools have been lobbying hard to make the case that they really should be allowed to carry on much as they are – pointing out that they are better at partnering with state schools than actually running them. But has anyone in No 10 been listening? It's possibly too early to tell. 

Such is the weird world of educational policy-making: enormous decisions like these are made almost on a whim.

Ed Dorrell is head of content at the Tes. He tweets @Ed_Dorrell

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