Education was not a major issue in this election; still, the election result will have profound implications for schools. With a majority Conservative government now in place, school leaders will be looking at policy and promises for clues about the five years ahead.
The Conservatives' election victory is coupled with the meteoric rise of the SNP, meaning we are now in a situation where the third largest party in Westminster is concerned about the Scottish, not the English, education system. In this light, is anything standing in the way of the Conservatives’ plans for education? I’d say probably not: education is devolved in Scotland and Nicola Sturgeon has pledged the SNP will not vote on purely “English-only” matters. This means that SNP MPs will vote on issues such as the NHS, defence and the economy, as they affect people both north and south of the border: but they are unlikely to interfere in English schools.
In the run-up to polling day, the Conservatives made several education-related announcements. To name a few, the party said it would:
- Protect the schools budget in cash terms and link budget increases to rising pupil numbers
- Require 11-year-olds to resit SATs at the start of secondary school if they don’t reach the required standards
- Require secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography
- Allow all good schools to expand, including grammar schools
- Prevent Ofsted from awarding its highest ratings to secondary schools that refuse to teach core subjects to GCSE
On top of promises for the future, this government will also have to see through changes already in motion, such as the de-coupling of AS and A-levels, the introduction of new accountability measures and GCSE reforms.
It remains to be seen how many of these election promises will be fulfilled, but one thing seems writ in stone by this Conservative government: there will be more free schools and academies.
The number of open academies in England has risen from around 200 in 2010 to over 4,500 in March 2015. The Conservatives argue that academies drive up standards (there is plenty of research for and against this position) and, according to their manifesto, will “turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy”.
Originally the brainchild of Michael Gove, 255 free schools have opened since 2010. Despite a number of controversies (for example, poor Ofsted ratings and low pupil numbers), David Cameron has pledged to open 500 more free schools over the next Parliament.
It’s true that the Labour party will likely challenge the Conservatives on education somewhat. But the fact remains that if 56 SNP MPs abstain from an education-related vote, education policy in England will face less political debate over the next five years - for better or worse.
If you're a member of our service for school leaders, or are signed-up to The Key for School Governors, then you can of course ask us more specific questions on what the election result might mean for your staff, pupils and setting. We have a summary of the Conservative party education policies here.