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by GK Strategy 12th November, 2015
3 min read

Education, Education, Education

Last week saw Education Secretary Nicky Morgan make her first major policy announcement since the general election. Speaking at the conservative-leaning think tank Policy Exchange, she was quick to appropriate Tony Blair’s old slogan – ‘Education, education, education’ – in her introduction, leaving the audience wondering if this constituted another sneaky steal from the opposition.

The opportunity to criticise Labour was not missed, however, and alongside her reference to Blair came a damning attack on the Labour government’s approach to school qualifications in the decade prior to 2010. Morgan dismissed improvements in exam and test results, insisting that grade inflation has delivered results that aren’t ‘real’.

She also launched an attack on the range of vocational qualifications that flourished under Blair’s government, maintaining that young people are being deceived with claims that ‘NVQs and worthless certificates’ are equivalent to academic qualifications. Vocational qualifications were intended to address a gap in the education system, and whilst Morgan may insist that some qualifications have become overvalued, this is not necessarily a problem that was solved under the Coalition.

Tying in with this criticism of vocational qualifications, Morgan announced that the government would ‘in time’ like to see 90% of secondary school pupils enrolled in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). While the timeframe for this target is vague, the imposition of a selection of ‘core’ subjects on pupils will constitute a major, concrete change to the education system. It is a move that has been consistently unpopular with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), who have characterised it as a ‘significant reduction in school autonomy and curriculum freedom’.

Another manifesto pledge to find fruition in Morgan’s speech was the announcement that the government will be launching a National Teaching Service in September 2016. The programme is intended to get 1,500 ‘outstanding’ teachers into underperforming schools by 2020, with incentivising measures such as higher salaries in place to attract staff to less desirable areas.

Most mauled in the media, however, was Morgan’s announcement that primary assessment is about to get tougher. While year seven students are to get the new resit exams they have been promised, ‘catch up in year seven is still catch up’. It’s at primary, according to Morgan, that we need to make sure we get it right, and therefore the government will be looking at reintroducing formal testing for seven-year-olds (KS1), a decade after it was abandoned. One of the questions critics are asking is whether this will add an unwanted and unnecessary layer of pressure to children and staff in a nation that is already the ‘most excessively tested’ in Europe.

The Education Secretary’s speech placed a much-needed emphasis on schools in poorer areas and the right to a good education, no matter where you’re from or what your background. But it seems that in places, her policy proposals come close to committing the very crimes she has accused previous governments of. One has to ask where an imposed suite of subjects on secondary school students fits into an approach that supposedly finds repellent the idea that adults should be able to decide for the nation’s children ‘what they can and can’t do’ at school, and it seems certain that her announcements have only added fuel to the unceasingly fiery battle between Ministers and the teaching profession.

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