Situations vacant

By Geoff Gee and Karen Wespieser

Friday 9 June 2017

There will be much on the mind of Theresa May as she returns to Number 10 as Prime Minister, not only with a much reduced majority, but also relying on the support of the DUP. This poses a particular problem for education – as a devolved issue, the DUP are unlikely to be able to help on any legislation in our sector.

While we wait for news of who will be Secretary of State for Education, we take a look at the in-tray that will be awaiting them. Top of the list includes:

  • The National Funding Formula needs to be finalised: its current status is awaiting response to the consultation. It may need some new sums to be done to check what extra money will actually be available if they follow through on the manifesto-pledge for free breakfasts in primary schools.
  • Any experience of dealing with the complex, highly political and emotive issue of the NFF will come in handy when it comes to a promised ‘review of schools admissions policy’. This one cuts across a host of touchy subjects: selection; academies as their own admissions authorities; faith schools; catchment areas, parental choice.
  • As light relief from all this, ministers will hope that officials can give them a concise, easy-to-read summary of the responses to the current primary assessment consultation, with an indication of what to do next about things like baseline assessment.
  • Not to mention publishing the long-awaited Ebacc consultation response.

One item likely to drop-off the list is grammar schools. Most commentators agree that the new government will not have the strength necessary to push through controversial policies such as selection.

Whilst schools didn’t receive a large amount of coverage in the TV debates, skills and vocational education was a common refrain. The Conservative Manifesto pledges:

We will in the next parliament produce the best programme of learning and training for people in work and returning to work in the developed world.

The DUP also call for ‘greater value being placed on vocational qualifications’ in their manifesto. Yet this is all much easier said than done. Amongst other things this will involve introducing a national retraining scheme, changing the rules on what the Apprenticeship Levy money can be used for and introducing a right to lifelong learning in digital skills.

This will clearly be a busy summer behind the closed doors of Whitehall. But looking on the bright side, it could mean that many get their wish that very little happens to education policy for the next five years.