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Con-Lib Education Policies : Something Old, Something New ?

Anne Beauvallet
p. 93-114

Résumé

Michael Gove and Vince Cable have been at the helm of the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for more than three years and it is time to assess the coalition Government's policies which are set in a context of reduced spending. Con-Lib measures have showed clear signs of continuity with previous governments since the late 1970s, be they Conservative or Labour, on key issues such as school types, education providers, standards and the role of the central government. Under the leadership of David Cameron, the Conservative Party has also been offering a different agenda, particularly in the Government's attitude to teachers and social mobility. Con-Lib education policy-making has so far been rather smooth thanks to a broad “consensus” between the two parties currently in power, although the role of Nick Clegg as a party leader sometimes sets him apart from the otherwise united front bench.

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Texte intégral

Introduction

1Michael Gove and Vince Cable have been at the helm of the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for more than three years and it is time to assess the policies of the Con-Lib coalition Government by considering both their ideological inheritance and their potential legacy. We will first study education budgets and will then turn to policies such as schools, education providers, standards and school autonomy. These issues show how influential measures implemented since the late 1970s are to this day. The Conservative Party however has also been offering a different agenda regarding the teaching profession and social mobility and this will be analysed in the third part. Finally, we will explore the Con-Lib education policy-making process.

Education budgets since 2010

  • 1 Her Majesty's Government p.35.

2We first need to set our analysis of education budgets since May 2010 in their financial and economic backgrounds. The Labour Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown left an undeniably large budget deficit and tackling it is the key objective the Con-Lib coalition Government set in May 2010. The Con-Lib Programme for Government could not have been clearer : “The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement”1. The study of government spending falls into two key themes : Department for Education (DfE) budgets and higher education budgets.

  • 2 Harrison, 20 October 2010.
  • 3 22 October 2010.
  • 4 Brady and Merrick.

3 From the start, DfE budgets comprised some cuts in funding like the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme or a 12 % reduction in the Department's children services including “youth services, early years and sixth forms as well as teenage pregnancies and drugs awareness”2. In spite of recurrent reassurances from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and from Education Secretary Michael Gove, Con-Lib spending on schools cannot be described as flat and Mike Baker pointed it out in October 2010 : “[Schools'] income remains steady in cash terms but does not keep pace with inflation”3. This was confirmed in a DfE's confidential document drafted in October 2012 and leaked in February 2013 to The Independent : “Schools are subject to a real-terms cut in their funding because the rate of inflation is currently higher than forecast at the time of the Spending Review [in November 2010]”4.

  • 5 p.542.
  • 6 40% in October 2010, Harrison 20 October 2010.
  • 7 p.1-2.

4In 2010, higher education funding was reformed with a decrease in teaching grants and an increase in university tuition fees, which marked a major evolution as Naomi Hodgson highlighted in a 2012 article : “The shift from teaching grants to repayable tuition loans shifts the emphasis from publicly funded higher education to financing universities on the basis of the individual students it can attract”5. This entailed a drop in university funding, in teaching budgets particularly6, and this was made clear in the 2013 overview of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The latter recorded “first real-terms fall in total income since financial information was first collected across the whole sector in 1994-95”7. Beyond budget cuts in real terms for universities and declining funding for schools if we take inflation into account, what policies has the Con-Lib coalition Government been offering ?

Con-Lib education policies : Something old

  • 8 Her Majesty's Government p.29.
  • 9 Her Majesty's Government p.28.
  • 10 DfE and Prime Minister's Office.
  • 11 p.53.

5 We will now deal with key education policies such as school and provider diversification, standards, school autonomy and accountability. “Plans to diversify schools provision” feature in the coalition's Programme for Government8 and two types of schools in particular have been enthusiastically put forward, free schools and academies. The Government's objectives were clearly set in May 2010 regarding free schools : “We also believe that the state should help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools”9. Their development was made possible by the 2010 Academies Act and would-be initiators need the Education Secretary's approval to ensure public funding through a funding agreement for the new school. According to an official press release on 3 September 2013, the total number of free schools stands at 174 with 93 opening in September 201310. Such a figure constitutes a mere fraction of all English schools and the genuine “schools revolution” promised in the 2010 Conservative manifesto11 is rather underpinned by the conversion of many into academies.

  • 12 DfE June 2013, p.11-2.
  • 13 Exley 2013 (b).
  • 14 p.30.

6In 2010-11, there were 801 academies and in May 2012, according to the DfE, “42 % of state-funded mainstream secondary schools and 3 % of state-funded mainstream primary schools were academies”12. Such a process finds its roots in Con-Lib policies since the coalition Government has made conversion of schools into academies much easier. The only requirement is the Education Secretary's authorisation, academies being then directly accountable to him/her through the funding agreement. New Labour had focused academies on failing schools and this has been systematised since the Education Secretary has powers under the 2010 Academies Act to order conversion, particularly when a school has been placed under special measures by Ofsted. This is why some unions like the National Association of Head Teachers have been exposing the concept of “forced conversion”13. Yet, the Con-Lib Government has wisely offered to all schools to become academies and in particular, through the 2010 Academies Act, to those which have been rated as outstanding by Ofsted. The 2010 Act also enshrined a development which had begun in the later years of the Labour Governments, that is the end of private sponsorship requirement which had been virtually abandoned because of the private sector's lack of interest. Finally, conversion into academies was made easier by the promise of extra funding in 2011 with “net benefits ranging from £ 150,000 a year to £ 570,000 in one case” as estimated by Melissa Benn in School Wars : The Battle for Britain's Education14.

7In 2011, Michael Gove was interviewed on school diversification and he acknowledged “continuity” with New Labour and the 1980s :

  • 15 Abbott, Rathbone and Whitehead p.189-90.

I would argue that it's continuity with what happened or what was intended to happen when Tony Blair was Prime Minister rather than with the 2007-2010 Gordon Brown/Ed Balls period. [...] there is also a link with what happened in the 1980s as well because there are parallels between the Academies programme for converter schools and grant-maintained schools.15

  • 16 Mair.
  • 17 New Schools Network.
  • 18 p.417.
  • 19 BBC News Online 2010 (a).
  • 20 Vaughan.

8There is another connection between the Con-Lib Government and its predecessors and it lies in provider diversification which the coalition has furthered with the concept of Big Society. David Cameron defined it thus in March 2010 : “It includes a whole set of unifying approaches - breaking state monopolies, allowing charities, social enterprises and companies to provide public services, devolving power down to neighbourhoods, making government more accountable”16. With the Big Society, the public and private sectors which until 2010 underlay diversification in education providers have made room for the voluntary sector. Free schools naturally spring to mind when considering Big Society initiatives. Founded in 2009 as a charity by its future head, Rachel Wolf, a former Conservative adviser on education, the New Schools Network is also part and parcel of such a strategy. In its own words, this body “provides advice and guidance on how to set up successful new state schools”17. As Mark Goodwin has pointed out, “as such, it assumes a function with respect to schools policy that might traditionally have been seen as the province of the civil service”18. Teach First is another instance of Big Society in the making. It is a social enterprise company registered as a charity. It coordinates a teacher-training programme aiming at recruiting the best graduates who then achieve the Qualified Teacher Status and train in schools taking part in the network. The Con-Lib Government gave it a £ 4 million grant in 201019 and by 2013 funding had increased to reach £ 33.5 million20.

  • 21 Built to Last p.1; Invitation to Join the Government of Britain p.34.
  • 22 p.23.
  • 23 p.52.

9The deeper implications of Big Society must now be explored and first the concept's positive spin. The following sentence was on the first page of the 2006 Built to Last Conservative programme and it featured again in the 2010 manifesto : “We believe that there is such a thing as society, but it is not the same thing as the state”21. The objective was to show how different Cameron's conservatism is from the Thatcherite creed and to embrace compassionate conservatism as defined by David Willetts in Civic Conservatism in 1994 : “But the real sign of a civilised society is precisely that voluntary, charitable organisations can meet human needs without coercive taxation and the employment of public officials”22. Yet, the second part of the quote shows just how Thatcherite this policy is as it is about narrowing the remit of the government. This was the analysis of Bob Lingard and Sam Sellar in 2012 : “While presented as an agenda of decentralisation and localism, this approach is effectively the next iteration of long-standing efforts to steer schooling policy from a distance through the transfer of some control to market mechanisms”23.

  • 24 Her Majesty's Government p.28.
  • 25 Richardson.
  • 26 Stewart 22 July 2011.

10The second key Con-Lib policy we will analyse is the Government's focus on standards. This issue featured in the opening paragraph on schools in the coalition's Programme for Government : “We want [...] robust standards”24. Such a rationale is underpinned by three elements which can be described as transparency, targets and the fight against “grade inflation”. Transparency loomed large in the DfE's business plan released in November 2010 : “Making more data available in an open and accessible format will enable the market to develop new products that will help the public to hold both their local services and the department to account"25. The message is clear in that education is described as a market where parents are consumers who need all possible data to choose the best schools for their children. This is why new figures have been added to the league tables, now called performance tables, like for example the English Baccalaureate in January 2011. It states the proportion of GCSE students gaining 5 A*-C passes in each school and includes maths and English. Other statistics have been phased out. For instance, since July 2011 vocational qualifications have no longer featured in performance tables since, according to the DfE, schools had been using them to boost their results. Such an attitude was described as "morally wrong" by Michael Gove in July 201126.

  • 27 2010 (b).

11 Targets feature prominently in the Con-Lib Government's standards policy even if they bear another name, targets being associated with New Labour. In December 2010, Michael Gove wrote an article in the Times Education Supplement in which he announced the introduction of “floor standards”27. For example, from 2014 on, primaries in England will have to make sure that at least 65 % of their Year 6 pupils score a Level 4 in English and maths, compared to the current 60 % benchmark. Finally, the coalition Government has been trying to tackle “grade inflation”. This was not part of the 2010 Conservative and Liberal Democrats' manifestos or the Con-Lib Programme for Government but has become a constant leitmotiv in DfE's plans. Test and exam results have been rising since their introduction and according the Government's interpretation this means that tests and exams have become easier, thus revealing declining standards. In October 2011 in a speech to the Standards Summit organised by exams regulator Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, Michael Gove used comments made by business leaders, universities and academic studies to present “grade inflation” as a fact :

  • 28 13 October 2011.

I might disagree with any individual emphasis that any of those business leaders have put on their criticism of the exams system, but I can’t ignore what they say. And even if I were inclined to ignore what employers are saying, I couldn’t ignore what universities are saying as well. We know that more and more universities are considering remedial course for pupils, who when they arrive are unprepared for the rigours of further study.28

  • 29 BBC News Online 2012 (b).
  • 30 “High Court rules that Ofqual and exam bodies acted within the law”, Stewart 15 February 2013.
  • 31 Stewart 14 September 2012.
  • 32 BBC News Online 2012 (a).
  • 33 Evans.

12Such a strategy was made abundantly clear in 2012 when the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) adopted a harsher stance. English GCSE grades were lower than expected, which sparked an outcry among teachers and heads. They asked for regrading29 and some even initiated legal action30. The Times Education Supplement revealed in September 2012 that Ofqual had ordered an exam board to change its grade boundaries, thus limiting the rise in the number of students achieving a C grade31. Michael Gove “denie[d] political interference”32 but ruled out regrading. As a result, about 45,000 students had to resit their English GCSEs in November 2012. The outcome was altogether different in Wales where Labour Education Minister Leighton Andrews asked the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) to regrade Welsh pupils' papers and expressed his dismay at what he described as “the 'ideological approach' being pursued by Ofqual and the Westminster government”33.

  • 34 DfE p.12.
  • 35 28 January 2011.
  • 36 2011 Education Act.

13We will now turn to the concepts of school autonomy and school accountability which seem to carry equal weight in the November 2010 White Paper The Importance of Teaching: “Analysis of the international evidence also demonstrates that, alongside school autonomy, accountability for student performance is critical to driving educational improvement”34. What has been the Con-Lib Government’s attitude in this respect ? Have the two concepts been on a par since 2010 ? Academies and free schools seem a case in point as they already enjoy freedom from local authority control, particularly on the curriculum, admissions and staff management. As Mike Baker pointed out in January 2011, the central government still plays a crucial role : “It is central government that determines their funding agreements and it is through these agreements, or contracts, that ministers could, if they wished, direct policy and practice”35. As a non-departmental public body, the Young People's Learning Agency for England (YPLA) managed academies from 2010 to 2012 when it was closed down and its responsibilities were transferred to the Education Funding Agency, an executive agency under the direct authority of the DfE36. Thus, school autonomy is to be understood as secondary to school accountability through performance tables and Ofsted inspections, even for schools which are free from local authority monitoring.

  • 37 DfE p.iii.
  • 38 DfEE p.5.
  • 39 DfEE p.40.

14The themes we have so far analysed (diversification in schools and providers, standards agenda, tension between school autonomy and accountability) reveal broad continuity with measures implemented since the late 1970s by Conservative and Labour governments. They are perfectly consistent with the key themes in Conservative education policies in the 1980s and 1990s as they were listed by John Major in his foreword to the 1992 White Paper Choice and Diversity : “quality, diversity, parental choice, school autonomy and accountability”37. The same can be argued with the key “principles” stated in the 1997 White Paper Excellence in Schools : “There will be zero tolerance of underperformance ;” “Government will work in partnership with all those committed to raising standards”38 ; “We want to encourage diversity, with schools developing their own distinctive identity and expertise”39. Yet, Con-Lib education policies are also distinctive in that they are based on a new Conservative approach to specific issues, in particular the Government's attitude towards teachers and social mobility.

Con-Lib education policies: something new

  • 40 Streeter p.46.
  • 41 2010 (a).
  • 42 Parts 2 and 3 ; they featured in the 2008 document Giving Power Back to Teachers, pp.3-4.

15In 2008, the Conservatives published a document entitled Giving Power Back to Teachers and based on compassionate conservatism as defined by Oliver Letwin describing the situation of teachers, doctors and police officers: “Their professionalism is neither trusted nor respected. They are ordered about by a remote bureaucratic apparatus that impatiently pursues artificial targets and is ignorant of local needs. This is why Conservatives pair respect for professionalism with local forms of accountability. The Conservative approach will ensure patterns of accountability operate on a human scale”40. The party has been using a positive discourse and Education Secretary Michael Gove has played his part, like in his speech to the Conservative conference in October 2010 : “Let everyone watching this conference know - we honour the work our teachers do, we salute the sacrifices they make, we applaud their commitment to our children. Under David Cameron's leadership the Conservative party is now the party of the teacher”41. Some progress has been made on some of teachers' demands. The 2011 Education Act includes sections to “increase the authority of teachers to discipline pupils” and to “protect teachers from malicious allegations”42.

  • 43 DfE p.13.
  • 44 Pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership and management, behaviour and safety of pupils, (...)
  • 45 Coughlan.
  • 46 Vasagar.

16The Con-Lib Government's attitude towards teachers however has not been wholly positive and this appears clearly with two themes which have a direct influence on teachers' jobs, that is Ofsted and pay. The 2010 White Paper The Importance of Teaching promised to “reform Ofsted inspection”43 and this was enshrined in the 2011 Education Act as the number of areas of focus for inspectors was brought down from 27 to 444. Such a measure could not but please teachers but this has not proved a sea change since Ofsted has remained uncompromising towards the profession. In October 2011 for instance, Ofsted launched a website called Parent View enabling parents to rate their children's schools on various aspects including teaching45. In May 2012, Ofsted announced it would consider “anonymised information about the performance management” of teachers in order “to ensure that heads are using pay to raise standards”, although “inspectors will not be able to influence the salary of individual teachers”46. In November 2012, Adrian Elliott, a former inspector, published a study of Ofsted's history and entitled the passage on the organisation since 2010 : “A new government – slimming down and toughening up”.

  • 47 Exley 14 December 2012.
  • 48 Exley 2013 (a).

17Considering the Con-Lib Government's policy on teachers' pay entails the analysis of performance-related pay which it has initiated. Such a strategy was by no means unexpected as New Labour had already developed a framework in 2000, notably with head teachers' performance review. In December 2012, the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) accepted Michael Gove's plans. The national pay framework remains but from September 2014 on “schools [will be] free to set teachers' pay anywhere between minimum and maximum levels depending on performance”47. This does not allow complete flexibility but rises will no longer be automatic with the “spine points”. Unsurprisingly, such a measure has been unpopular with teachers and even with the usually moderate union Association of Teachers and Lecturers48. Will the Con-Lib Government convince teachers it is on their side ? So far, it has sent mixed signals and the jury is out.

  • 49 p.51.
  • 50 Conservatives p.53; Lib Democrats p.34.
  • 51 Her Majesty's Government p.28.
  • 52 BBC News Online 2010 (c).
  • 53 BBC News Online 12 May  2013.

18The second theme signalling a change in Conservative policies is the coalition's focus on social mobility. It did not feature in the 2005 Conservative manifesto but it stands as the party's second educational objective in the 2010 manifesto : “We will improve standards for all pupils and close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest”49. Such an approach is twofold, targeting children from poor families and ensuring access to higher education. Targeting poorer children is underpinned by three key measures, the pupil premium, free child care and free school meals (FSM). The pupil premium was promised by both parties in their manifestos50 and is defined in the Con-Lib Programme for Government as “a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils”51. It stood at £ 430 per child in December 201052 and will rise to reach £ 900 in 2014-553.

  • 54 The Guardian.
  • 55 Watt 2013 (c).

19In May 2012, Nick Clegg announced fifteen hours of free child care a week to the poorest two-year-olds in 10 areas in England with pilot schemes beginning in September 2012, thus extending a policy initiated by the Labour governments54. In September 2013, the number of children to benefit from the scheme went up to 130,000 with a further increase planned in September 2014 to help “families earning less than £ 16,190 a year”55.

  • 56 Williams.
  • 57 Adams.

20Regarding free school meals, the coalition Government's first step was ominous as it phased out the Labour-planned extension of the provision to low-income families56. In September 2013 however, Nick Clegg promised to extend free school meals to all pupils for the first three years of primary school in England from September 2014 on57. It is far too early to assess the impact on the poorest children of a policy which is yet to be implemented, just as it is too early to draw conclusions on this attempt to re-introduce some degree of universalism in the system when analysing the coalition Government's social mobility strategy.

  • 58 Her Majesty's Government website.

21The second aspect to the latter is its focus on ensuring access to higher education and our study will tackle student loan repayment and scholarships. Student loan repayment was modified in 2010. It is to begin when graduates' incomes reach £ 21,000 instead of £ 15,000 with New Labour. Interest rate is to be adapted to income as it stands at inflation (Retail Price Index) for incomes of £ 21,000, at inflation plus up to 3 % for incomes between £ 21,000 and £ 41,000 and at 3 % plus inflation for incomes above £ 41,00058. These changes were proudly presented in a document released in August 2013 by the Liberal Democrats :

“We have, however, made the new system of student finance as fair as possible:

  • Graduates won’t repay their loan until they earn over £21,000

  • The poorest 30% of graduates will repay less overall than the previous system

  • 59 p.15 Liberal Democrats' emphasis.

All graduates will repay less per month”59

  • 60 NSP, BBC News Online 2010 (b).
  • 61 Grove.
  • 62 Morgan.

22In November 2010, the coalition Government stated that the New Labour Aimhigher programme would be replaced by the National Scholarship Programme60 in July 2011. Official funding stood at £ 50 million in 2012-13 to rise up to £ 100 million the following year with allocations for each university which is expected to match the amount, that is double it. This is to provide bursaries of at least £ 3,000 for students with family incomes of less than £ 25,000, fees discounts or reductions on services such as accommodation. For universities wishing to charge £ 9,000 a year, an agreement with the Office for Fair Access (Offa) is required with a range of bursaries, summer schools and outreach programmes. In January 2013, following a Higher Education Funding Council for England review, the allocation method was revised to ensure “the money follows the student and goes where it is most needed” according to a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman61. Yet, the June 2013 Spending Review included plans to cut the NSP from £ 150 million to £ 50 million in 2015-16 and focus spending on postgraduates62. The Con-Lib Government has thus unquestionably used a rhetoric based on social mobility and has devised measures in this respect. At this stage however, official signals are mixed and critics of the coalition fear the Government's commitment on widening access to higher education may be little more than cosmetic.

Con-Lib education policy-making

  • 63 This includes among others child protection, adoption, fostering, child poverty, youth crime, chil (...)

23 Let us finally analyse Con-Lib education policy-making at two levels, by first studying institutions and second party politics. Two departments have been in charge of education. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) created in 2009 has kept its name and remit comprising higher and further education above 19. Its Secretary of State is Liberal Democrat Vince Cable and the Universities Minister is Conservative David Willetts. The Department for Education (DfE) lost the Labour name of Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) in 2010 but its remit has remained the same with the education of children up to 19 and children's services63. The Secretary of State has been Conservative Michael Gove and the Minister of State for Schools was Conservative Nick Gibb from 2010 until September 2012 when he was succeeded by Liberal Democrat David Laws. The management of both departments has been rather smooth, in that both have respected each other's remit. Two issues have nevertheless arisen, the first being institutional and the second rather personal.

  • 64 Travis.

24Con-Lib education policy has also been made by the Home Office and this is no different from New Labour after the New York and London terrorist bomb attacks in 2001 and 2005. In March 2011, the Home Office announced reforms designed “to cut overseas students by 80,000” in order to contain immigration64. The second issue with Con-Lib education policy-making is based on personalities, in particular those of Michael Gove and his advisers. Michael Gove's style can best be described as confrontational and even sometimes offensive. Here is his description before the Commons Education Committee of a campaign to fight the conversion of Downhills Primary in Haringey, London into an academy :

  • 65 31 January 2012.

What we have seen in Haringey around this particular school is a campaign led by the Anti Academies Alliance, which is a Socialist Workers Party-backed campaign. We have had an NUT official, who operates at taxpayers’ expense, leading that campaign, and we have had a reprise of all the enemies of promise who fought against what Andrew Adonis and Tony Blair were trying to do reconstituting themselves. I think it is a great pity that the Labour Party has not spoken out against this Trot campaign.65

  • 66 p.33.

25Party politics is significant as the very nature of the Con-Lib Government tends to make the policy-making process more complex at all levels. This is why we have chosen one obvious bone of contention between the two parties, the issue of university tuition fees. There is hardly any need to remind the Liberal Democrats' pledge in their 2010 manifesto : “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income”66. There was late in 2010 some defiance from party members. In November 2010 for instance, former Lib Democratic candidates to Parliament signed a petition urging the party to oppose the rise in tuition fees :

  • 67 Dickinson.

During the general election campaign many of our MPs (and now government ministers) signed a pledge with the National Union of Students that they would vote against any tuition fee rises during the course of the next Parliament. The wording of this pledge clearly indicated that this would be unconditional ; regardless of whether the party was in government or in opposition. The party has been very clear for many years about its view on tuition fees and that we feel they should be abolished.67

  • 68 Mulholland.
  • 69 Wintour and Mulholland.

26In December 2010, during the vote in the House of Commons, 21 Liberal Democratic MPs rebelled and among them were two unpaid ministerial aides, Jenny Willott and Mike Crockart, who then resigned68. The front bench however was united in its support throughout the law-making process and beyond, although in September 2012 Nick Clegg apologized for “making the pledge to the National Union of Students before the election not to raise tuition fees, but not for the eventual decision by the coalition to lift the cap on fees to £ 9,000”69.

  • 70 Marshall and Laws.
  • 71 Laws, Clark, Cruddas, Rudderford p.26.
  • 72 Kirkup.
  • 73 Watt 2013 (b).

27The Liberal Democrats have been broadly supportive of the coalition's education policies and this is underpinned by the fact that the two parties have recently offered similar measures in key areas such as school and provider diversification, standards, school autonomy and accountability, social mobility. No frontbencher embodies this reality better than David Laws, Schools Minister since September 2012. He has been particularly on-message and this should come as no surprise as he is a market liberal who co-edited the 2004 Orange Book : Reclaiming Liberalism70. In 2009, in a collective work entitled Equality in the UK, he supported for instance diversification in education providers : “It is a distinctly 20th century assumption that the state deserves to have a monopoly of educational provision. The question is not whether greater diversity and new forms of governance will be introduced, but when and how”71. In October 2012, he blamed teachers for “depressingly low expectations” harming the future of children : “Teachers, colleges, careers advisers have a role and a responsibility to aim for the stars and to encourage people to believe they can reach the top in education and employment. That’s not happening as much as it should do at the moment”72. There is to this day one exception to the harmony prevailing on the front bench regarding education and it happened in May 2013 when “David Laws vetoe[d] plan to force schools to check immigrant status of pupils”73.

  • 74 Wintour 23 May 2013.
  • 75 Watt 2013 (a).

28One Liberal Democratic frontbencher only seems willing to set himself apart from government policies and this is the Deputy Prime Minister. Such an attitude was clear on the issue of early years ratios which Michael Gove wished to lower to enable nurseries to look after more children. The plans were advocated by the DfE which argued they would “cut childcare costs by 28 %”74. They were openly criticised by Nick Clegg and, after David Cameron publicly indicated his willingness to “compromise”75, Clegg's office announced in June 2013 that the plans had been shelved :

  • 76 Harrison 6 June 2013.

The proposals to increase ratios were put out to consultation and were roundly criticised by parents, providers and experts alike. Most importantly, there is no real evidence that increasing ratios will reduce the cost of childcare for families. The argument that this will help families with their weekly childcare bill simply does not stack up. I cannot ask parents to accept such a controversial change with no real guarantee it will save them money - in fact it could cost them more.76

  • 77 Syal.

29Michael Gove expressed his anger in a BBC interview in May 2013 and we agree with his assessment of the Deputy Prime Minister beyond this controversy on early years reform : "I don't think we can understand Nick Clegg's position without also appreciating the position he is in because of internal Liberal Democratic politics”77. Clegg's attitude on the coalition Government's education policies appears indeed underpinned by his role as a party leader rather than by genuine ideological differences.

  • 78 Laws, Clark, Cruddas, Rudderford p.37.
  • 79 Laws, Clark, Cruddas, Rudderford p.37.
  • 80 p.46.
  • 81 p.57.
  • 82 Groskop.

30In the 2009 work entitled Equality in the UK, Greg Clark who was then Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change gave the following answer to David Laws' proposals on education : “we share many points of agreement on how the system needs to be reformed if our schools are to serve as the engines of social mobility they need to be”78. Greg Clark also discerned the emergence of “a new progressive consensus”79. Such a “progressive consensus” relies on the general continuity between Conservative, New Labour and Con-Lib education policies and the predominance of Thatcherite premises. Commentators such as Bob Lingard and Sam Sellar have described this situation as “the neo-liberal hegemony”80 and have called for a radical overhaul of current educational thinking : “There is the need to constitute a new social imaginary to challenge the suffocating suffusion of the contemporary structure of feeling by nefarious neo-liberalism and its various verities”81. This is a point the teaching profession may not agree with but its perception of Con-Lib measures has been rather negative with strikes in June 2011, September 2012 and October 2013. A survey released by the National Union of Teachers in January 2013 showed “teacher morale at all time low”82.

Conclusion

31 In a context of reduced spending, Con-Lib education policies have showed clear signs of continuity with previous governments since the late 1970s, be they Conservative or Labour, on key issues such as school types, education providers, standards and the role of the central government. Diversification in schools and providers has gone on unabated with growing numbers of academies and the concept of Big Society which has allowed charities to join the public and private sectors. Standards and school accountability have also remained central. The Conservatives have however modified their outlook to the extent that the DfE has been more positive on teachers and that social mobility has become a key theme. The jury is still out on both issues as the coalition Government has been sending mixed signals. Con-Lib education policy-making has so far been rather smooth thanks to a broad “consensus” between the two parties currently in power although the role of Nick Clegg as a party leader sometimes sets him apart from the otherwise united front bench. Such a “consensus” may be contrasted with the feelings of teachers in England and with the measures implemented in Scotland for instance, especially since devolution.

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Notes

1 Her Majesty's Government p.35.

2 Harrison, 20 October 2010.

3 22 October 2010.

4 Brady and Merrick.

5 p.542.

6 40% in October 2010, Harrison 20 October 2010.

7 p.1-2.

8 Her Majesty's Government p.29.

9 Her Majesty's Government p.28.

10 DfE and Prime Minister's Office.

11 p.53.

12 DfE June 2013, p.11-2.

13 Exley 2013 (b).

14 p.30.

15 Abbott, Rathbone and Whitehead p.189-90.

16 Mair.

17 New Schools Network.

18 p.417.

19 BBC News Online 2010 (a).

20 Vaughan.

21 Built to Last p.1; Invitation to Join the Government of Britain p.34.

22 p.23.

23 p.52.

24 Her Majesty's Government p.28.

25 Richardson.

26 Stewart 22 July 2011.

27 2010 (b).

28 13 October 2011.

29 BBC News Online 2012 (b).

30 “High Court rules that Ofqual and exam bodies acted within the law”, Stewart 15 February 2013.

31 Stewart 14 September 2012.

32 BBC News Online 2012 (a).

33 Evans.

34 DfE p.12.

35 28 January 2011.

36 2011 Education Act.

37 DfE p.iii.

38 DfEE p.5.

39 DfEE p.40.

40 Streeter p.46.

41 2010 (a).

42 Parts 2 and 3 ; they featured in the 2008 document Giving Power Back to Teachers, pp.3-4.

43 DfE p.13.

44 Pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership and management, behaviour and safety of pupils, section 41.

45 Coughlan.

46 Vasagar.

47 Exley 14 December 2012.

48 Exley 2013 (a).

49 p.51.

50 Conservatives p.53; Lib Democrats p.34.

51 Her Majesty's Government p.28.

52 BBC News Online 2010 (c).

53 BBC News Online 12 May  2013.

54 The Guardian.

55 Watt 2013 (c).

56 Williams.

57 Adams.

58 Her Majesty's Government website.

59 p.15 Liberal Democrats' emphasis.

60 NSP, BBC News Online 2010 (b).

61 Grove.

62 Morgan.

63 This includes among others child protection, adoption, fostering, child poverty, youth crime, children's health.

64 Travis.

65 31 January 2012.

66 p.33.

67 Dickinson.

68 Mulholland.

69 Wintour and Mulholland.

70 Marshall and Laws.

71 Laws, Clark, Cruddas, Rudderford p.26.

72 Kirkup.

73 Watt 2013 (b).

74 Wintour 23 May 2013.

75 Watt 2013 (a).

76 Harrison 6 June 2013.

77 Syal.

78 Laws, Clark, Cruddas, Rudderford p.37.

79 Laws, Clark, Cruddas, Rudderford p.37.

80 p.46.

81 p.57.

82 Groskop.

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Anne Beauvallet, « Con-Lib Education Policies : Something Old, Something New ? », Observatoire de la société britannique, 15 | 2014, 93-114.

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Anne Beauvallet, « Con-Lib Education Policies : Something Old, Something New ? », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 15 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2014, consulté le 30 avril 2017. URL : http://osb.revues.org/1606 ; DOI : 10.4000/osb.1606

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Anne Beauvallet

Maître de conferences à l'Université de Toulouse 2-Le Mirail

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