WHOEVER wins the next election, I am expecting a busy educational legislative programme.
Labour’s proposal for a new “National Education Service” would require primary legislation, and would no doubt be preceded by a lengthy period of consultation and discussion. The Churches would need to ensure that the “dual system” partnership of church and state provision would be carried forward in such a context. Labour would also remove the VAT exemption on private-school fees.
The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, appear to be signalling a substantial increase in the part played by the local authority in both strategy and provision. This, too, would require primary legislation, in the course of which the dual system would also need careful attention.
In respect of schools and education generally, legislation is going to be essential, even if the new Government has a Conservative majority; hence there is no fundamental change of strategy. It is likely that at least some drafting has already been completed, and that there will be further White and Green Papers shortly after the Queen’s Speech.
If re-elected, the Conservatives will need primary legislation to fulfil their commitment to remove the prohibition on further selective schools. This will be necessary to enable them to create new grammar schools, and open the way to the proposed “specialist maths schools” (if these are to go beyond the existing specialist-school provisions).
Legislation will be needed to enable new faith-designated free schools to be created, with up to 100 per cent faith admissions. This will require the faith bodies to “prove” that parents of other faiths would seek admission, were places available. The statutory School Admissions Code will need substantial emendation as a consequence of all of these commitments.
The Conservatives also promise to change the requirements of the Admissions Code to counter the inflationary effect of successful schools on local house prices, although they rule out any “mandatory lottery-based policy”.
The legislative detail will have to wait for a draft Education Bill, but the challenge will be to ensure that the manifesto commitments can fit with the need to provide places for the substantial number of extra pupils expected over the lifetime of this Parliament, with limited real extra financial resources, and in the context of a continuing mix of academies and maintained schools.
In addition to the above, legislation is likely to be required to enable a range of other commitments.
One hundred leading independent schools will be sought to become involved in academy sponsorship, or the founding of free schools. If these are not forthcoming, legislation will be brought in to change the tax status of independent schools.
Universities seeking to charge maximum tuition fees will be required by the Conservatives to become involved in academy sponsorship, or the funding of free schools. This will require changes to the funding arrangements for universities.
Legislation will also be required if non-educational bodies are to be required (as distinct from merely asked) to provide teaching materials for schools; if the accountability of schools is to be “improved” at Key Stage 3; and for changes to the provisions of free school meals.
It will also be needed to provide a new national funding formula for schools (presumably different from the one just dropped); to enable “graduate bursaries” and the “forgiveness” (whatever that means in reality) of student-loan repayments, as long as an individual remains a teacher; to require the appointment of staff directors to academy-trust company boards (or otherwise ensure special representation of the staff’s interests), if this commitment is intended to apply to academies; to create the proposed new “royal-charter-status” institutes of technology with regius chairs; and — very important to the Church of England — to “support” village schools.
Howard Dellar is a partner in, and head of, the Education, Ecclesiastical and Charities Department at Lee Bolton Monier-Williams. He writes in a personal capacity.