What can we expect for education over the next five years?

Dated:

The new Parliamentary term starts on Wednesday 27 May accompanied by all the usual pomp and ceremony.

Parliament

The Queen's Speech will set out the government's plans for the year. So what can we expect for education over the next few years?

The newly elected Conservative government looks set to continue its reforms across education at a fast pace. Nicky Morgan, Nick Gibb, Nick Boles, Edward Timpson and Lord Nash have all retained positions in the Education Department suggesting there will be little change to the direction of travel: Increasing autonomy and competition is likely across the sector. Here's a quick summary of what we expect to see:

1. The continued expansion of Academies remains high on the political agenda

Pre-election David Cameron said he would wage 'all-out war on mediocrity' within schools promising that any school that was not judged good or outstanding would "have to change". The Conservative manifesto states "we will introduce new powers to force coasting schools to accept new leadership". We expect the introduction of a new education bill, to include a lower benchmark for intervention from the Education Secretary and greater powers to sack headteachers and to force schools to become an academy.

It is unclear what the exact benchmark for intervention will be. Under the current system, secondary schools are considered to be failing, and therefore eligible for intervention, if fewer than 40% of their students score at least five Cs at GCSE, including English and maths, and they do not meet national averages in pupil progress. In primary schools, the threshold for intervention is if fewer than 65% of pupils get Level 4 in reading, writing and maths and a below average number of pupils make the expected amount of progress.

The manifesto states 'Any school judged by Ofsted to be requiring improvement will be taken over by the best headteachers - backed by expert sponsors or high-performing neighbouring schools'. More than 3,300 schools in England are currently labelled "requires improvement", in practice it seems unlikely immediate plans will cover this many schools. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said there is unlikely to be capacity to intervene in thousands of schools as "There aren't enough academy chains, multi-academy trusts, system leaders or national leaders of education to intervene in so many schools." Around a thousand 'inadequate' schools became academies over the last Parliamentary term bringing the total number of academies in the UK to around 4,000.

Opposition MPs will point to the failure of a number of academy chains to deliver the results promised by the government and the evidence to show that forcing a school to become an academy does not necessarily improve standards, to include the academy chain performance tables published by the DfE in March this year. As pressure mounts, we expect the new government will give Ofsted new powers to inspect academy chains.

2. Free Schools

As well pushing for the conversion of existing schools into academies, the Conservative manifesto refers to further investment in the creation of new academies - known as free schools. Over 250 new free schools were set up over the last parliamentary term. The free school programme has however continued to come under attack for failing to provide sufficient school places where most needed.

This year's primary admissions saw many parents fail to secure a place at their preferred school. As many parents choose to appeal there is further chance of pupils being taught in over stretched class sizes. Labour accused the government of 'causing a primary school place crisis' arguing that the number of young children in supersize classes, bigger than the 30 children per teacher allowed by law, has more than tripled since 2010. The Conservative manifesto promises to "deliver free schools if parents in your area want them". "Over the next Parliament, we will open at least 500 new free schools, resulting in 270,000 new school places." Information received through a Freedom on Information request however suggests that an extra 880,000 pupil places are required in the next 8 years and that the government's investment and plans will therefore fall short.

3. Funding

The Conservatives' plans for eliminating the deficit by 2018 will mean swingeing cuts to Government spending across many areas. Whilst the Education Secretary has pledged to protect the current education budget, once increases in pension and national insurance contributions, inflation and rising pay are taken into account, schools in England are likely to face a 10% funding cut in real-terms. As well as working hard to cut costs, we are likely to see more schools try and raise their own income through offering training packages to other schools, hiring out their resources and applying for grants or awards. The government has released various pots of funds over the last five years to support the development of teaching schools and to reward innovation and best practice in specific areas, e.g. most recently the Pupil Premium Awards and Character Education grants. We are likely to see more of the same from the government over this term but such income streams are relatively small and unreliable and most individual schools lack the capacity or skills to pursue.

4. Curriculum

We can expect to see a continued push on schools to ensure that pupils 'master the basics' with a focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG), reading and maths. Following the publication in March of research into 'The earnings and employment returns to A levels', there is going to be continued emphasis on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), particularly for girls.

As part of their "war on illiteracy and innumeracy", the Education Secretary has said that the government "will expect every 11 year old to know their times tables off by heart and be able to perform long division and complex multiplication. They should be able to read a book and write a short story with accurate punctuation, spelling and grammar."

Secondary school pupils will be expected to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography. The Conservatives have previously suggested that Ofsted will be unable to award its highest ratings to schools that refuse to teach these core subjects.

5. Assessment

A continued focus on raising standards and attainment through regular and rigorous testing seems inevitable, with a further move away from modular exams and coursework. As well as rising the bar, the Conservatives' latest plans suggest that pupils who do not reach the required standards in their exams at the end of primary school, will have to re-sit them at the start of secondary school.

6. Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

Having introduced big changes to the SEND system over the last year through the Children and Families Act, which came into force in September 2014, we are unlikely to see any further big reforms in this area over the next five years. Government statistics issued on 21 May suggest that there is still a long way to go to fully implement the reforms - we are likely to see them being slowly embedded over the full course of the term. As ever, we will be keeping a close eye on local authorities to see how well they are doing under the new SEND framework, as will Ofsted under the proposed new accountability framework. As the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to soar, so does the demand for places in specialist provision. We expect to see more specialist schools popping up across the country, as part of the Free School programme, like the new autism school in Essex.

7. Discipline

The government looks set to give schools and teachers more powers to tackle poor behaviour. The Education Department has repeatedly placed great weight on the need for teachers to ensure discipline in the classroom. Following concerns raised by Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, earlier this year about low level disruption in classrooms, the Conservative manifesto says they will "expect every teacher to be trained not just in how to tackle serious behaviour issues, but also in how to deal with the low level disruption that stops children from learning properly."

Previous attempts to amend the exclusion guidance, making it easier for schools to exclude pupils, were successfully challenged earlier this year but we expect to see similar moves over the next few years.

Proposed plans to address 'low level disruption' have raised concerns for parents of children SEN and their advocates, including ourselves. It will be important to ensure that schools and teachers have the training and support they need to ensure they are well placed to determine whether disruption is a result of poor behaviour or unmet need. This relies on teachers having the right training, capacity and support. They then need to have the right resources at their fingertips to resolve effectively. There are concerns that the SEND reforms along with the proposed new accountability framework do not go far enough to protect children with low-level SEN.

We expect over the next five years there will be a further focus on reforms to teacher training, pay and conditions; school leadership and governance; further and higher education. Accountability across education will also remain a hot topic as the education landscape becomes increasingly labyrinthine. More on all of that after the half term and the Queen's Speech!




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