What schools could expect from a general election

We'd have lots of school funding talk, a bit about inspection – and not much else education-related, says Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell

If a general election is called, expect lots of talk about school funding, writes Ed Dorrell

Obviously, obviously, obviously, Brexit will prove the dominant, overwhelming issue if a general election is to take place in the next few weeks and is likely to obliterate all other areas of political conflict.

But that’s what everyone said when Theresa May called her surprise – and ultimately botched – election in 2017, and it didn’t quite turn out that way.

To the surprise of pretty much every commentator (apart from this one), education funding cuts proved to be a major problem for the Tories on the doorstep – and by some estimates cost May her majority.

This was largely a result of a hugely successful campaign organised by the education unions to explain to voters how cuts were playing out in their local school, including how many teachers would have to be lost.

The current Conservative administration seems to get this: you don’t have to be a cynic to suggest that fear of how education funding was seen as a big deal by the voting public was a major motivation behind the raft of funding promises we witnessed last weekend. 

It also helps explain why in the summer the Tory leadership candidates fell over one another to promise extra billions of funding for schools.

School funding is a big election issue

So the question will be: has Boris Johnson done enough to cancel out the perception of funding cuts among floating voters? And, in turn, will Angela Rayner and Jeremy Corbyn attempt to push on this issue?

If they do, they would be wise (as Ann Mroz wrote in Tes magazine last week) to repeatedly point to cuts to children’s services, child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) and all the other support that has been cut in recent years.

The other potential education battleground will be over inspection. We have long expected an announcement from Labour this autumn over the future of inspection, with many predicting that Corbyn and Rayner, egged on by their friends in the teacher unions, will promise major surgery on Ofsted.

But while such a move would prove popular with the teacher vote (who are likely to have voted for Labour or the Lib Dems anyway), it also opens up the possibility of the Conservatives accusing Rayner et al of going soft on standards (a line likely to play well with their core vote and, potentially, parents, with whom Ofsted is still a very popular brand). So there you have it. Funding and inspection: education general election politics in 2019 in a nutshell. The skills deficit, workload, teacher retention and recruitment, qualification reform, even Ofsted’s new framework will likely prove to be nothing more than background noise.

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Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell is deputy editor and head of content at the TES, former features and comment editor and former news editor. 

Find me on Twitter @Ed_Dorrell

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