Under new management
the education world may be hoping for a quiet 2007 after the past 12 reform-packed months. But, with the promise of a new Prime Minister and a host of other changes, there seems little chance of that. In Wales, there could even be a new First Minister. Is Rhodri Morgan's reign about to end?
In all likelihood, Gordon Brown will get the keys to Number 10, possibly in May. He has been carefully trying to build up his education credentials, pouring money into paying for improvements to school buildings and promising to match the funding for state school pupils to those lavish levels enjoyed in the private sector.
However, it is not clear how far the state-school educated Chancellor will endorse Tony Blair's education reforms.
After so long waiting in the wings he is sure to want to make an impression. Teachers' union leaders already fear that schools may experience the full force of the target obsession he brought to the Treasury.
"Gordon could end up making Tony look like he had a light grip on schools,"
As Tony makes way for Gordon, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, may also make way for another. The former postman is still in the hunt for the Labour deputy leader's job. And if he fails to get that, Mr Brown could well choose to put his own stamp on the future of education policy by choosing another to fill his shoes.
It is also a make or break year for Jane Davidson, Wales's long serving minister for education, lifelong learning and skills. If re-elected in May, will she see her history-changing education reforms through or will she spread her wings and demonstrate her revolutionary zeal elsewhere?
Out in the real world, away from Westminster job shuffles, schools will be busy with curriculum developments as they prepare for an overload of new qualifications in 2008. Prime among them will be the specialised vocational diplomas, meant to offer pupils an alternative to GCSEs and A-levels.
Details of the first of these qualifications will be finalised this year and sent to schools in the summer so they can teach them from September next year.
The first batch of the diplomas - in construction, engineering, ICT, creative and media and health and social care - appear impressive from early briefings. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has been hailing them as the most significant curriculum reforms taking place anywhere in the world. But there have been grumblings about them being second-class courses, particularly after Mr Blair backed the international baccalaureate in November.
The next few months, when the exam boards finalise their details and schools plan how to teach them, will be crucial to see if the diplomas have the popularity to survive.
In Wales, we have stolen the march on this with the Welsh baccalaureate, the envy of many across the border. Now that it has been given the green light, all that remains is for the Welsh business community to be fully convinced of its merits.
Meanwhile, new maths GCSEs without coursework will start in September, paving the way for several other GCSEs to be launched without conventional coursework in coming years. The Government will begin trialling "functional skills" tests in English, maths and ICT from September, which pupils will need to pass in order to get higher GCSE passes. It also has the job of working out how exactly the new A* grades for A-level will work. Will harder questions be mixed into the exams, or will brighter pupils be made to sit additional papers?
This year could be one of the first since Labour came to power without an Education Bill, though schools will be testing legislation pushed through Parliament in 2006. In England, schools can now apply for trust status, in effect making them state-funded independent schools, which can be controlled by organisations including businesses and charities.
The Government hopes this model will help to increase the number of schools working in federations. The academy programme will also continue its expansion. One of the most welcome reforms for schools is that teachers now have a clear legal right to discipline pupils, including the use of reasonable force and detention. And a new admissions code that will be introduced this year will ban schools from conducting interviews and other forms of back-door selection.
The big question for Wales is how long it will be before pay and conditions are devolved. The one remaining education power that Westminster hangs on to has been said by some sources to have become "a bit of a pain in the neck to them". Many would welcome fully devolvedJeducationa* Jpowers, while others say it will lead to pay cuts. Time will tell.
Heads and senior staff await a Government-commissioned report on the future of school leadership to be published this month by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
It is expected to recommend that people from non-teaching backgrounds could run federations of schools. It is also expected to propose that the School Teachers' Review Body, which helps to determine pay, reviews salaries of school leaders and governors.
Meanwhile, primary heads and other members of the National Association of Head Teachers are likely to get back into ministers' good books. The association will vote later this month on whether it should rejoin the "social partnership" with the Government and other unions, which it abandoned in 2005 over complaints that there were not enough resources to give teachers time outside the classroom. Mick Brookes, the union's general secretary, is supporting the U-turn, arguing that the NAHT should be involved in decisions about school structure and leadership.
Government spending plans until 201011 will be announced in the summer, and it is not expected to be good news for schools. The 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, which sets budgets across all departments, is thought likely to slow the rate of investment enjoyed by the Department for Education and Skills since Labour came to power. David Bell, permanent secretary at the DfES, warned the Commons education committee last year:
"It is going to get tighter. I don't think there is any doubt about that."
He said the department would have to "drill down hard" on priorities - although whether that will result in fewer initiatives for schools to implement remains to be seen.
Primary teachers will be taking part in the biggest independent review of primary education in almost 40 years. More than 60 researchers led by Professor Robin Alexander of Cambridge university will be gathering evidence from teachers and parents on how primary schools should develop in the future. Their report is due in 2008.
Meanwhile, the Government's new primary framework, which involves teachers responding more to pupils' progress, will begin to be rolled out this year.
It recommends that elements of numeracy and literacy are taught earlier and that teachers plan broad topics several weeks ahead, but only plan two lessons in advance. Local authorities are due to run introductory sessions on the framework from this term. But those who cannot wait to get their hands on the 1,600-page document can download it from www.dfes.gov.uk.
LEAGUE TABLES (ENGLAND ONLY)
This month will see the first official GCSE league tables to measure the proportion of pupils who get A*-C grades in English and maths as well as three other subjects. Ministers brought in the extra criterion following claims that pupils could get five A*-C grades in any subject without having mastered the basics. As a result, expect hundreds of schools to plunge down the tables, and hundreds to rise up.