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English Voters Should Be Concerned About Education In The Upcoming Election

20/04/2017 12:13
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

On 8th June, it won't just be a programme for Brexit that will be decided. The Conservative Party will also seek endorsement for changes whose effect will be almost equally significant for social values and social opportunities.

The danger is that in the great commotion of a Brexit election, these other proposals will go unexamined and under-debated.

It's in this context that English voters should be concerned about education.

Over the past nine months, the government has floated two ideas for policy change that have huge implications for the future of English schools: a National Funding Formula, and a redesign of secondary education around the principle of selection at 11.

Neither proposal has been well received. The introduction of a NFF at a time of cuts not seen in education since the 1990s is levelling down, not levelling up, the funding that goes to schools.

Parents have been quick to spot this. I've spoken about school funding in meetings in the length and breadth of the country from South Gloucester, to Lancashire, from Gateshead to Brighton. My message is that 99% of schools in England are going to have a real terms cut in their per-pupil funding between now and 2020 - equivalent to £3 billion taken from school spending. That is not a message which government has been able to refute - which is why parents' groups are being set up around the country, and why Conservative MPs have desperately appealed to government for some change in direction.

As for selection, the government has found it even more difficult to mobilise evidence to support its case for change. With her claim that children should have as good a chance of attending a selective grammar school as they do a non-selective comprehensive, Secretary of State Justine Greening has plumbed the depths of absurdity.

It is these arguments which will have been rehearsed, challenged and tested in the two formal consultations held by government since September last year.

If they were published, the results of the consultations would give a full sense of the balance of educational and public opinion on fundamental questions of the organisation and resourcing of England's schools - and they would provide invaluable information to voters about the robustness and credibility of the government's programme.

Justine Greening already has access to these consultation responses - so she and her party can use them for fine tuning and targeting their arguments.

But the government does not intend to make such information available to other parties, nor to voters. It has missed its own deadline for responding to its consultation on grammar schools. It will not respond to the consultation on funding. That can't be right.

It would prefer an election fought on the vaguest of aspirational rhetoric, to one in which its record and its proposals are open to informed public scrutiny.

It wants to push ahead with fundamental and deeply regressive change, without the inconvenience of detailed debate.

If elected, it will claim an educational mandate that it will have done scarcely anything to deserve.

None of this is good for education. None of it is good for children's future.

That is why I wrote yesterday to Justine Greening to say that she has a duty to publish a summary of consultation responses. It seems that she will do not do so. It therefore falls to the growing movement of parents and teachers to create an awareness of how high the stakes are for education in June's election. I do not think they will fail.

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