Will Contradictions in Tory Policy finally bite in 2016?

Trevor Fisher writes

For education, the political story in 2015 was simple. Education vanished off the agenda, Labour lost its traditional lead in the opinion polls on schools and no impact was made by the front bench once Morgan replaced Gove. However the School Revolution continues and accelerates and while the media are convinced miracles are happening, in 2016 the serious mismanagement of schools and colleges may finally hit problems that no amount of spin can conceal.

As noted in the SOSS briefing THE SCHOOL REVOLUTION (available from http://www.soss.org,uk) the academies and free schools policy is hitting major problems, and it was a turning point when Nick Gibb admitted (September 5th) Academies are not necessarily better than maintained schools – and there is much evidence that they are actually worse. Media and the Westminster bubble remain wearing rose tinted glasses.

Shortages however may break the consensus, in particular if they are linked to the impact of Ebacc and the role of OFSTED. Not one of our allies, but for all its flaws OFSTED is reporting on problems that are now developing. The major ones are Teacher supply and the Ebacc prescription, where OFSTED is now piggy in the middle. OFSTED is not commenting on the workload issue which is where unions have achieved a precarious unity over the problems – with no effect on this dogmatic government or its media. Workload has to be linked to staff shortages.


The Guardian on 2nd January reported OFSTED saying teacher shortages were a ‘serious problem’ with ‘isolated, coastal and disadvantaged areas’ at risk. The rose tinted glasses were applied and the government argued all was hunky dory. Gibb had argued in the Sep 5th speech that teacher supply was wonderful and all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Labour’s response was to talk about statistics, which the media do not understand. Nevertheless, with the Select Committee reporting and Teach Vac having sounded warnings, it is more difficult as spring comes on for government to conceal what OFSTED think is a “two tier system” developing “with one group of schools more able to recruit and another less able to do so… with fewer trainees coming through”. Wilshaw’s comment underlines the danger of government giving up on planning for the training of teachers.

However the problem is not just statistically driven and the data quoted in the Guardian by Lucy Powell and TEACHVAC – Social Sciences, business studies, design technology were cited by TeachVac – are not going to worry the Tory media and do not figure in Westminster Bubble thinking. Their children do not do them. What might make the difference is Ebacc, where their children’s options are being limited.

Ebacc (English Baccalaureate – a performance measure…. there is no baccalaureate) has till now been advisory, but a Tory manifesto commitment aims to force at least 90% of secondary children to do it before the next election. So much for school autonomy, but the contradictions are growing at pace. The Bacc is five traditional subject groups – English, Maths, Sciences, Humanities and Languages. With performance 8 it is possible to do three other subjects, but pressure is to provide only the five. Humanities are only History and Geography. The death of the broad and balanced curriculum is now at hand.

Suprisingly little has been said over the last five and half years by the subject associations though RE, Sport, Drama, Dance, the Arts, Design Technology, and the vocational lobby if it still exists have to be worried over the cutting away of their position in schools and colleges. This may be about to change as rather than a voluntary system, compulsion is at hand from September 2016, though the myth of autonomy will continue to be maintained. As the timetable alters to the Favoured Five, there will now be a real threat of redundancies in secondary for purely curriculum reasons. This is likely to start with planning for Year 7 next September.

Currently there is a cod DfE consultation taking place, not on the programme but broadly on implementation, though implementation is vague and the rationale can still be contested in submissions, which I would urge colleagues to do. Reports indicate pressure on schools will be the threat of denying them OFSTED grade 1 in inspection, and that Wilshaw is not happy with this. Rightly so. The inspectorate should not be an agent of government. There may then be a need to defend the independence of OFSTED if this proves to be the case, and the cod consultation, which ends February 29th, needs close attention, along with the Select committee report on teacher supply.


There are other contradictions in Tory Policy, notably the Grammar issue – they are open to the charge of a different kind of two tier system if the opposition can get its act together – and what will worry parents, shortage of school places, developing in at least 17 Local Authorities. And then there is mounting evidence of pupils being expelled to massage performance table exam results…. and the massaging of performance table figures themselves, the figures being due out the end of the month. Media are blind to all this, and treat performance tables as gospel as last year’s failure to spot that Gibb had moved the goalposts proved beyond doubt.

But first things first. Teacher shortages, made worse by the nonsense of a limited and dogmatic old style academic curriculum (which even grammar schools do not follow today) backed up by threats to and tension with OFSTED have dramatised the folly of the School Revolution.

It is time to pull the threads together and start to network to exploit the contradictions before the situation spirals out of control.

2 Comments on “Will Contradictions in Tory Policy finally bite in 2016?”

  1. Paul Martin says:

    What are the chances of a by-election in a very middle-England area of the country where there are visible problems such as Trevor describes and at least an embryonic local campaign under way?

  2. The biggest opportunity right now is the College of Teaching.
    I’ve pledged support, have you? http://bit.ly/1IL5N0B