Swotting up on education policy
Tom Morrison, Head ofRollits' Education Team was recently approached by Lexis Nexis forcomment on developments in education - including the appointment ofthe new Secretary of State for Education, the impact of thereorganisation of Government Departments and the national shortageof school places. The interview was published by Lexis Nexison 20 July 2017.
LocalGovernment analysis: July has brought the education system backinto the spotlight - a new Secretary of State for Education, a hugeten-year forecast for school places, and problems surrounding theappointment of a new Ofsted chief inspector, to name but a few. Tom Morrison, partner and head of the education team atRollits LLP, considers the challenging landscape ineducation.
What impact if any do you thinkthe new Secretary of State for Education will have on the WhitePaper on academies?
JustineGreening has said publicly that she has not been in the role longenough to comment in detail on education policy and to some extentI have some time-limited sympathy for that. Having said that, thecountry is looking to her to start to make some decisions -orpotentially even row back from some of her predecessor's decisions- and any sympathy will evaporate very quickly. She is known forhaving a special interest in education, most particular in thecontext of education as a tool for social mobility. If that is herguiding light, then the question is does she think that thegovernment's position as set out in the White Paper contributes toachieving the social mobility objective?
To someextent, Nicky Morgan did the unpopular bit. She moved theboundary forwards, building on Michael Gove's work before that.Justine Greening may feel able to soften policy at the edges,indeed some may say Nicky Morgan did a little bit already, but I amnot at all convinced that there has been a U-turn on'academisation' in substantive terms and nor do I expect there willbe. The collision between politics and education has long been asource of frustration - he small yet powerful Conservative Partymajority in Parliament was largely appeased by the apparentconcessions on forced academisation, so why would Justine Greeningnow feel a need to row back much further? In terms of voter unrest,I think SATs are arguably higher up the agenda than academisationat this moment.
Doyou anticipate the new cabinet to implement any major changes inpolicy to cope with the extra 750,000 school places needed inEngland by 2025 as forecasted by Department for Education (DfE)projections?
The need formore school places has been known for some time. Thegovernment's answer to this so far has been academisation and, inparticular, the creation of new free schools. The policy wasclearly driven for-ward by the former Prime Minister and JustineGreening's predecessors, but this is a Conservative policy and isconsistent with the overall manifesto commitments the new PrimeMinister seems intent on delivering. Also let's not forget that thecurrent Secretary of State for Education is the former Secretary ofState for International Development - ie part of the Cabinet whichbacked these policies. So a push for yet more academies, freeschools and university technical colleges seems likely.Interestingly, it looks like she is also considering whether topick up the hot potato of allowing new grammar schools.
What impact do you think thetransfer of responsibility for higher education and universitiesfrom the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) toDfE will have on future policy and the Higher Education andResearch Bill?
This is aninteresting one. There is a lot to think about here. Againsocial mobility plays a role here - broadening the range ofproviders able to offer degrees being a key issue. Havingsaid that, the associated White Paper made scant mention of thesuccessful role of colleges in widening participation in highereducation. The move of universities from BIS to DfE will notin itself make a big difference in that regard - if anything thereis maybe a greater chance of joined-up thinking in having the wholesector under one department. The flip side though is thatthere is a risk that there is a loss of focus on each part of thesector individually. I am hearing a lot about schools anduniversities, but colleges play an absolutely critical role insocial mobility and preparing the country's future workforce. So far, for me, there has not been enough comment coming out of thenew government on what the future holds for furthereducation.
The linkbetween universities and BIS is not wholly eradicated. JoJohnson retains his university ministerial role, but is also withBIS in a science capacity (much as the former Skills Minister NickBoles sat between BIS and DfE for colleges). With theretention of the same minister (one of the few) there may have beena feeling of business as usual were it not for the huge issue ofBrexit. Universities in particular are extraordinarily (andunderstandably) concerned for a number of reasons,including:
- grants (will the governmentensure that an equivalent amount of UK funds is provided com-paredwith the amount currently provided through the EUroute?)
- overseas students (who areattractive to UK universities for a number of reasons, includingfinancial)
- overseas staff (will thebrightest and best from overseas want to come and work for a UKuniversity when we are no longer in the EU?), and
- loss of staff (will currentstaff, British and others, be poached by overseas universities ifour universities are seen to be under pressure followingBrexit?)
Inlight of the opposition to the appointment of the new Ofsted chiefinspector, should there be a change to the way that publicappointments such as this are made?
The ChiefInspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills Order 2016,SI 2016/748
The role ofchief inspector has been a key one since Ofsted's inception. Every chief has attracted criticism one way or another andthe outgoing chief has some very controversial views - particularlycomments about the role of colleges which were quickly disowned asthe chief's personal opinions rather than policy based on evidencefrom Ofsted. The new appointment flies in the face of the PublicAdministration and Constitutional Affairs Committee's view and theGrimstone review highlights the tension we saw at play between thegovernment's ability to govern and wider involvement in suchappointments. There is a point of view which is that thegovernment has been elected and so it has a mandate. Clearly thatargument can only be taken so far, but the question is should it goso far as to allow public appointments to be made by a ministeragainst a countervailing view within wider Parliament. I personallyhave no doubt that a senior public appointment such as this wouldbenefit from having wider support - it gives the appointee astronger power base when making unpopular decisions if (in thiscase) she has support which extends beyond 'just' the government. Iwould feel uneasy though about shackling any incumbent governmenttoo much otherwise we risk being paralysed by even greaterpolitical machinations and bargaining to win favour, with a loss offocus on what the job is really about.
TomMorrison was interviewed by JanineIsenegger.
The viewsexpressed by the Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarilythose of the proprietor.
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