Conservative Party conference: anything to hope for?

Serious education chat at Conservative Party conference might be even rarer than at Labour Conference last weekend. This might be a relief to those working in the industry! But before I move on to a preview here’s a quick review of what we heard at Labour:

  • The main new idea was Angela Rayner’s principles behind the ‘National Education Service’. Perhaps this was an attempt to prove that this idea, first whipped out at the election, was more than a rebrand of the education system. Sadly, the ideas here where vague- all about tackling barriers etc- and the objectives on existence. Labour needs to come up with specific and strategic goals that act as unifying guides to action across the system. Phrases like we will ‘encourage and enhance’ cooperation mean nothing if you have not identified what these co-operation is aimed at. Disappointing.

 

As for the Conservatives I have one reason to be hopeful (ish), one worry and one yet to be decided…

  • We have a queer woman as Secretary of State for Education which is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) not being highlighted very much. It opens up huge opportunities for progress within schools on issues related to gender and sexuality. She has placed pressure on the Church of England to embrace gay marriage, she has been forthright in her critique of the DUP and she is leading the charge (within government) on reforming the gender recognition act. She has already made sex and relationship education compulsory so watch closely for her next moves on this- could we finally see LGBT+ inclusive sex education being (dare I say it) ‘promoted’ in schools? Will we see stronger moves on addressing gendered assumptions and bias in primary schools? Plenty of other ideas here but it could be a really fruitful period for LGBT+ organisations to get stuff done with government.
  • Now for the negative. What new, totally irrelevant, innovation in school structures will the right wing of the Conservative party be talking about now that they can’t talk about Grammar schools? How successful will it be in driving the Labour party and unions into such an overblown response that they completely forget to talk about all the things we actually need to get on with in the education system? Watch out for such attempts, which are largely designed to distract us from the news that it is going to take 50 years the close the educational attainment gap on this government’s current trajectory.
  • Waning commitment to the old schemes: Ebacc is on the ropes as schools refuse to toe the line and all eyes turn to Progress 8 and Attainment 8 as the important school measures. The free schools budget was recently slashed by Greening by £280 million to protect school budgets more widely. Lord Nash, its standard bearer in the DFE, is leaving. Local authorities have been handed back responsibility for over 30 free schools as part of meeting demands for places… Nick Gibb maybe talking the talk on the policy but I expect the Conservatives will continue to allow these reforms to fester in this mid-state of progress unless anyone picks up the baton to reinvigorate them; it goes to show how hard it is to radically reform the education system when you don’t bring the professionals on side. I wonder how much they will be discussed.

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