John Dunford’s Election Blog, Friday 7 May

This blog is reposted here from John’s 2010 election blog for ASCL.

So it’s to be a hung parliament – but will that mean a coalition or a minority administration? Which parties will co-operate and who will be prime minister? And, of particular importance to ASCL, who will be secretary of state for education, children, families, or whatever the department will be called?

First, though, on a personal note, I am particularly sorry to see that so many former education ministers with whom I have enjoyed working have lost their seats – Jim Knight, Charles Clarke, Jacqui Smith, Phil Hope and Bill Rammell – and at least two of the most dedicated members of the select committee over the years, Jonathan Shaw and Paul Holmes.

All the talk last night and this morning on the television and radio emphasised the negatives of the new political arithmetic but, ever the optimist, I want to mention three of the positives of the current situation.

First, there has been stronger engagement with the political process in this election than in any previous election in my memory. ASCL members report that this has particularly been the case with the young people in schools and colleges.

Second, we might now have less legislation. That will be a great benefit to schools and colleges still struggling to put in place the huge amount of legislation and regulation of recent years.

Fewer bills also mean that each will get more time in parliament and so we can hope that legislation in this session will be more thoroughly considered than has been the case with recent bills.

Third, single governing parties tend to become legislative juggernauts, pushing their half-formed ideas into law, often before they have been properly tested and therefore with little evidence of whether they will work in practice.

So a Labour-led coalition or Labour minority government would be unlikely to find a parliamentary majority for the licence to practise, the pupil and parent guarantees or the school report card. But they would find sufficient support to continue to build stronger school-to-school collaboration.

A Conservative-led coalition or Tory minority government would benefit from Liberal Democrat support on parent-initiated schools, although only if they remain part of the local authority system, and on broadening the range of qualifications (such as the IGCSE) that can be taken in state schools. The Tories would be unlikely, however, to find sufficient support for their plan to make it easy to become an academy and break away from the local authority.

A coalition of either colour could work to introduce a pupil premium to create a fairer funding system. That won’t be easy at a time of funding difficulty, but a start could at least be made on devising the formula and working out how to achieve it over time.

With a Eurozone financial crisis, stock markets plummeting across the world and a huge hole to repair in the UK public finances, the new government will have more than enough on its plate. On education policy the highest priority of the new secretary of state is likely to be discussing with Treasury ministers how frontline educational services can best be funded in the current financial climate, given the importance to the national economy of having a highly educated and well trained workforce for the 21st century. ASCL’s line in the sand is the 0.7% real-terms increase announced by Ed Balls, which we expect to be honoured by the new government.

So my suggestion for the new government (in addition to those in my open letter in yesterday’s blog) is to forget the idea of a new education bill and instead seek cross-party consensus on supporting schools and colleges to do better those things that don’t need any new laws or regulations. That means concentrating on raising educational standards, supporting the education of the disadvantaged, working out how best to engage parents better in the education of their children, supporting schools on behaviour, improving assessment and testing, improving vocational qualifications and embedding the diploma, reforming Ofsted, attracting the brightest and the best into teaching, and reforming accountability to remove perverse incentives.

If they do that, then I am all for a hung parliament!

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