'Schools stare into the abyss: this next few weeks will decide the future shape of education for decades to come'

With speculation whirring around funding and grammar school reform, schools are on the verge of a time of change that would make Michael Gove look light-touch

Ed Dorrell

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The education system feels like it is teetering on the brink this weekend. Two massive great policy traps sit ready to trip it up and send it over the edge.

These traps come in the form of two vast policy consultations: the new national funding formula (outcome expected on Wednesday) and the green paper that promoted the idea of rolling out selection across the country (outcome expected sometime in the next four weeks).

Barely a day has gone by these last week or two without grammar schools – which obsess the national press disproportionately – and the NFF either leading the broadcast news or making the front-page of national newspapers.

If the government push on with the wilder excesses of the green paper, and refuses to row back from the extremes of the new NFF (as a potential Tory backbench rebellion is now demanding), the future for many, many schools could look decidedly different to how their leaders might have imagined them as recently as 12 months ago.

Travelling the country, talking to heads, it feels like there’s a nervous energy shooting around the education community: like they’re in a kind of phony war.

As the more general funding cuts bite, as the repercussions of the NFF reforms are assessed, and as they look over their shoulder wondering if there could be a grammar school about to open on the next street, heads feel exhausted at the very prospect of the scale of change that could be coming their way.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This year – and the years that followed – were supposed to be the period when schools would be encouraged to bed in the Govian reform agenda: get used to the new national curriculum, the multi-academy trust system, the new, harder GCSEs and A levels.

And it still could be. If the grammar school reforms are watered down to the extent that we’re only looking at a handful around the country and the NFF proposals are emasculated or even shelved, then apart from the really nasty cuts that they’re already modelling, there might be a period of relative policy stability for schools.

But if not, the education community will be staring down the barrel of an era of disarray that will make the Govian Epoch look like a long walk in a country park.

We will know in the next few weeks – or even days – which it’s to be. Hold on tight. 

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

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