Theresa May’s announcement of a snap general election caught much of Westminster off-guard. Brexit is sure to take centre stage, but with grammar schools and funding in the headlines, education will feature. Here’s what the election could mean for schools.
Grammar schools will be front and centre
We’ve all been awaiting the DfE’s latest white paper, Schools that Work for Everyone, but it may have been in vain. Part of the reason for going through the consultation process in the first place was to show that the government was putting its plans to the public before pushing ahead. But holding an election, putting it front and centre in your manifesto, and then winning said election is a much better approach. Expect the white paper to be published, if at all, after the election, when the Conservatives will have more political space to justify it (assuming they win). The Conservatives will come under fire for their proposals, but May is banking on it being a vote winner in showing that she understands the post-Brexit mood. If asked what her vision is for Britain after we leave the EU, grammars will be one of May’s go to answers when describing ‘a country that works for everyone’.
Labour need their own answer on school funding
Jeremy Corbyn attacked Theresa May over school funding at this week’s prime minister’s questions. It’s a useful policy frame for Labour, as it allows them to portray the government as presiding over a country creaking at the seams while it pursues a hard Brexit. But while the Conservatives have a relatively settled position on school funding, what of the others? If they choose to attack on school funding, Labour will need some answers of its own. Will Labour promise to increase funding for all schools? And if so, how will they pay for it? They need to get their answer to that question sorted before they go on the attack.
Education unlikely to sway many voters
Opposition parties, caught off guard, are going to have to work furiously over the coming weeks to come up with a few key policies that will resonate with the public. Labour have a bit of a head start, with their promise of free school meals for all primary age pupils. But how much of this will affect the result? Current polling suggests that, although its profile has risen, education is still only fourth in the list of issues voters currently see as the biggest facing Britain. Will some believe that it’s wrong to reintroduce grammar schools? Yes. Will some people think cuts to education are wrong? Yes. Can these people still vote Conservative? Yes. Ultimately, this election will be played out on the themes of leadership and Brexit. Where you stand on those issues will, for most, decide how you vote.
A lot won’t change
We could all do with a regular reminder that what is happening on Twitter and in Westminster is not the same as what actually happens in schools. The DfE’s focus on academisation and the growth of multi-academy trusts, the changes to primary assessment, as well as the reform of high needs funding, will remain untouched. In some ways, because of the enormity of Brexit, it feels like there is less up for grabs in other policy areas as so much of the conversation will be centred on how Britain leaves the EU.