What do the leaked education plans mean?

30 August 2019

This Friday, there’s one thing that is taking over Impact Manager, Caitlin’s reflections, read on for more…

The biggest event in education and learning this week was the leak of the Government documents outlining Gavin Williamson’s plans for education – but what does it mean? We’ll take a look at the opinion and analysis of a few different experts on the topic.

The Guardian View

On Wednesday, the Guardian published an exclusive leaked briefing document containing Gavin Williamson’s policy proposals for schools in England. The headline figures include £2.8bn for primary and secondary schools up to the age of 16, including £800m for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The details for an extra £800m for sixth form and further education colleges are still under discussion with the Treasury. According to the Guardian, the main proposals include:

  • Increasing pay for teachers, with starting salaries rising to £30,000 by 2022.
  • Encouraging school leaders to confiscate or ban mobile phones.
  • Backing headteachers to exclude pupils, with new guidance on behaviour.
  • Offering academy trusts £24,000 incentives to take over struggling schools.
  • Opening a new wave of free schools, including alternative provision schools for excluded children.
  • Removing exemptions from regular inspection for schools rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted.
  • A fresh push to convert local authority maintained schools to academy status

The document has been met with mixed reactions since it was released – The Guardian, who first published the story, described the policy recommendations as

“A raft of dramatic and controversial education measures including billions of pounds in new funding, a crackdown on student behaviour and a further wave of free schools”,

with language such as “reasonable force” in the behaviour recommendations being cause for concern, while also citing that increased spend for schools and plans to raise teachers’ salaries would likely be welcomed. However, the Guardian also points out that this could come at a cost, particularly slashing provision for Teaching Assistants.

The document contains a policy recommendation explicitly aimed at behaviour in schools that has gotten a lot of attention, stating: “We will back heads to use powers to promote good behaviour including sanctions and rewards; using reasonable force; to search and confiscate items from pupils (including mobile phones); impose same-day detentions; suspend and expel pupils; ban mobile phones.” The document also points out that many will be concerned about the behaviour policy recommendation’s effect on school exclusions, which have been on the rise since 2012 and have disastrous effects on those who are excluded. Our work with The Difference have helped us continue to learn about the ways school exclusions negatively impact young people’s lives.

What other experts are saying:

A couple of others in the education and learning space have offered different insights on the contents of the leaked documents – NCS founder and former DfE adviser Jon Yates had positive things to say about the leaked document, saying in a Twitter thread that it looked a lot like what Damian Hinds was planning to do before he was reshuffled.

He adds that securing funding for post-16 education, which is mentioned in the leaked document but with less certainty, is crucial.
SchoolsWeek Political Editor Freddie Whittaker similarly said that the leaked document might not mean anything new – on school funding, he points out that the proposed figures have not been approved. Not only that, but it is likely that Williamson will have aimed high in his bid, and that the actual approved spend might be lower. 

On the proposal to raise starting teacher salaries to £30,000 by 2022, Whittaker asks, at what cost? “Worryingly, the leaked document talks of further cuts to support staff numbers – already devastated by almost a decade of funding pressures – and there will be a concern that more experienced teachers could lose out”, Whittaker says. He also raises the issue of political instability as a barrier – “pledge for something so far in the future when we don’t even know if Boris Johnson will still be prime minister next year is pretty unreliable”, he says.

In regards to behaviour policy, Whittaker points out that not much has changed: “To those outside the schools community, this will sound like a punitive clampdown. In reality, it’s a list of things heads are already allowed to do….in short, the government is hoping that emphasising its existing policy on behaviour will make it look tough in the run-up to an election”. While we understand that behaviour policy is one that is important to the public, especially parents, we hope that this new government puts into practice the recommendations from the Timpson Review to transform our exclusion practices, making sure that education sets all young people up to thrive.

We know that policy recommendations like these have huge implications for education and learning, and especially two areas we focus on: teacher and leader agency, and inclusion as strength.

We will be following these developments as they unfold and learning from experts in the sector about their implications for setting all young people up to thrive in life.

(Feature image: Gavin Williamson, provided by Parliament website)