All Change and no U-Turns?
It is not often we truly get to say we are living in unprecedented times, but this is one of them. With the result of the referendum still settling in, we currently still have the same Party in Government albeit with a substantial change in personnel at the helm.
It remains to be seen what all of this may mean for the education sector, but Justine Greening arrives at a critical juncture with the Nicky Morgan-backed White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere having received a somewhat mixed response and the fallout from SATs continuing. Will the Government use this as an opportunity to break away from some unpopular policies? Maybe. It is too early to tell - the Secretary of State has been clear that she needs time to get properly into post and is so far sticking to talking about the wider objectives of social mobility - but many of these policies go back to the Party's pre-election manifesto which the new Prime Minister has indicated she is intent on delivering. Let's also not forget that Justine Greening, as with Theresa May, was part of the Cabinet which backed previous and current education policy.
So for now we are keeping with the theme of the "three As" - Academisation, Apprenticeships and Area Based Reviews.
For Area Based Reviews, which clearly impact more providers than just those who are effectively compelled to be part of the process, there has been some limited guidance brought forward during the Spring - including in relation to Transaction Grants, the Restructuring Facility and Sixth Form College academisation arising from Review recommendations. With a raft of related implementation guidance on Area Based Reviews further delayed by the resignation of Nick Boles (three weeks late at the time of writing, which is significant for a process which is live and ongoing), we are going to produce a round-up in the months ahead.
That leaves Academisation and Apprenticeships.
On Academisation, Education Team Partner John Flanagan answered questions in our recent edition of Education Focus on policy development, trends we are seeing and what schools can be doing in this fast evolving environment. The themes are that there appears to be now wide consensus that the U-Turn policy of forced academisation is, for most, not in fact a U-Turn. If anything, we are seeing an increase in concern now that we have all been shown what the edge of the cliff looks like. Many schools are more keen than ever to ensure that they retain control by forming their own MATs with the schools of their choice rather than find their favoured partners have already gone elsewhere.
As for the Apprenticeship Levy, will it still be implemented on time or at all? We are working on the basis that it will unless and until we hear something different, and we are hearing rumours that the delayed draft provider guidance and rates are finally about to be released. We are all galloping towards the implementation date with a little over 9 months before the first taxes are collected; employers need to know how they can recoup the benefit of having paid that tax and they should be making plans right now. This presents a great opportunity for some but a risk both for providers who may see competitors looking for new ways to win market share and for employers who are slow off the mark and find themselves without a solution ready to implement and without recruitment plans incorporating the possibility of the new apprenticeship regime.
It will be interesting to see what the next few months bring and which policies the Government chooses to pursue with the greatest vigour following the recess.
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