As the Conservatives look set to win a slim majority in the House of Commons today, we consider what their victory will mean for schools over the next five years.
1. Tighter budgets
The biggest issue facing schools in the near term is funding, with prime minister David Cameron ruling out a real-terms increase in school spending back in February. Instead, he pledged to ring-fence per-pupil spending, a move that is likely to lead to an overall cut in budgets. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested that schools could face cuts of up to 12 per cent once rising pupil numbers and increased national insurance and pension contributions are taken into account.
However, in an interview with TES before the election, education secretary Nicky Morgan said school spending would be properly addressed in the next spending review.
2. Higher stakes
In its bid to “get tough” on school standards, the Conservative Party has vowed to take a “zero-tolerance” approach to failure, stating that any school judged to be in need of improvement by Ofsted will be forced to become an academy and taken over by new leadership, unless it can show it is improving. The party will also introduce powers to “force coasting schools to accept new leadership” unless they can illustrate that they are raising standards.
3. New legislation
Mr Cameron and Ms Morgan pledged before the election to introduce a new education bill early in the new Parliament. Speaking to TES two weeks ago, the education secretary said the new legislation would focus mainly on childcare and early years, promising a period of “stability” over the next five years.
4. More tests
One of the Conservatives’ stand-out policies announced ahead of the election was the proposal to make pupils who failed to reach expected standards in English and maths at key stage 2 take a new “resit test” in the spring or summer term of Year 7, to help them catch up with their peers.
5. A (slightly) different Ofsted
Like Labour, the Conservatives pledged to reform the schools inspectorate, and there were even rumours that the party intended to bring the watchdog in-house, but they were quickly quashed. Unlike Labour, however, the Tories do not intend to work towards the more popular reform of greater peer review when inspecting schools. Instead, they will rely more heavily on data collection in a bid to “reduce the burden” of Ofsted inspections.
6. Compulsory EBac
The Conservatives have pledged that all students should enter the English Baccalaureate at GCSE, stating that every Year 11 pupil should sit exams in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography. The party also said that any school that “refused” to offer the EBac would be unable to be judged “outstanding” by Ofsted.
7. More free schools (and grammars?)
Mr Cameron pledged to open “at least” 500 new free schools over the next five years, and will continue to expand the academies programme. However, the party’s manifesto also states that it will allow all good schools to expand, “including state maintained, free schools, academies and grammar schools”. As highlighted this week, one of the Ms Morgan’s first tasks will be to decide whether to allow the Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge to open an “annexe” 10 miles away in Sevenoaks. If she does assent, this could pave the way for more grammars to open across the country.
Any such decision would be welcomed by grammar school heads. As TES reports today, the selective schools say they are being forced to axe courses, make teachers redundant and could even face closure owing to the previous government diverting resources to low-achieving pupils.
Read more on the TES website