What will a confusing election outcome mean for education policy in England and Wales?
My faith in the footballing prowess of the Scottish national team was shattered 21 years ago at the hands – or feet, rather – of Gazza. But recently, that faith was rekindled, if only briefly.
Last month, Scotland once again played England, this time in Glasgow. The match, dominated by a scrappy England team, saw Scotland a goal down in the second half. I was fully expecting the match to fizzle out as a win for the visitors.
Ten minutes from the end, most of the Scottish fans, too, were resigned. Nobody expected that we could rescue a draw. But after two incredible free kick goals in the last ten minutes of the game, we were suddenly winning. Even my kids cheered (they humour me).
But the elation wasn’t to last. In the last moments of time-added-on, England managed to find an equaliser to deny a famous victory.
I was struck that, when the final whistle sounded, Scotland had managed to find a result they would have been absolutely delighted with just ten minutes earlier. But it felt like a defeat. It felt worse than losing one–nil. We should have won!
I think a few people in Whitehall can relate. It turns out that in politics, as in football, context really matters. Sometimes, winning an election can feel like a loss.
Choosing to capitalise on a huge lead in the polls, and an apparently floundering Labour party, Theresa May called a snap election. This was a gambit designed to cement her authority ahead of Brexit negotiations – and it backfired.
With a hung parliament, a minority government and a shaky alliance with the DUP, May is still prime minister. But the mandate she sought evaporated with the exit polls.
So what can we expect for education under this new government? The Queen’s speech barely mentioned education, making only a brief remark about school funding.
There have been many concerns raised by the education community on expected cuts – a fairer distribution of less money is still less money. Justine Greening has now promised that no school will have its budget cut, protecting coffers in cash terms, if not in real terms.
May’s government now has to pick their battles, and they will focus on the conditions of Brexit. This means we’re unlikely to see the Department for Education pushing forward with many other reforms promised in the Conservative manifesto.
Controversial and misguided plans for new grammar schools have been shelved. For most working in education, this is a huge relief. But May clearly feels very strongly on this issue, so we can expect these proposals to resurface if she can find surer footing in the next year or two.
The free school meals for infants programme will live on. This is an expensive concession at £650 million, but scrapping it would have been a huge public relations problem from for the already wounded prime minister.
Whatever they decide to do in education, let’s hope this government is stronger at international negotiations than Scotland is at international football.