As I write, it’s still too early to discern any concrete future pathway for the UK’s relationship with Europe post Brexit. A lot is in limbo awaiting a new Prime Minister – who looks overwhelmingly likely to be Theresa May. But in the meantime, life goes on, and heads, teachers, parents, children and all who work in schools will be feeling the uncertainty. The honest, difficult answer is that we will just have to wait.
Part of the issue is that at a macro political perspective, everything is also in limbo. Nicky Morgan decided not to run for leader herself but instead is one of the main supporters of the Gove campaign. Should he make the final two, she will be occupied all summer, as will key junior Ministers in the DfE. In any event, the leadership contest itself will likely occupy all Ministers’ minds over the next couple of months, as will the reshuffle that will come in September with the new PM. That means a lot of other stuff gets put on hold. What might this mean for schools in the North East?
- Some important things won’t happen. The Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper as a whole will very quickly fall away as any new Secretary of State will want to put their own stamp on the DfE. Some big things in it – ITT reform and the role played by some of the North East’s large universities, and SCITT partnerships; MAT accountability metrics; and, painfully for many schools, including a lot in this region, the National Funding Formula – are unlikely to happen anytime soon.
- Some other policies might slip off the agenda. A new Secretary of State coming in is a chance to drop less popular commitments. I suspect the Year 7 resits will never see light of day. We may get a shift on EBacc – particularly in light of further pressures on EU national teachers who often come to give language teaching
- DfE will slow right down. As noted above, Ministers’ attention will be elsewhere. We may see a new ‘Department for Brexit’ (or at a minimum, a huge increase in personnel at BIS, the Foreign Office, and the Cabinet Office). Finding several thousand civil servants at short notice is tough. DfE is the least exposed department in Whitehall to a lot of EU matters. If you were ruthless, you could strip back the department to the absolute essentials (funding schools and dealing with basic need places via EFA, some performance monitoring of existing Academies, ITT allocations) and free up a lot of staff for quick redeployment.
- Teacher numbers will be more volatile. We may see a decline in EU national staff, who may avoid the UK / choose to return home, even if they don’t need to. On the flip side, we may see more UK graduates entering teaching if the economy slows. Movement of UK staff outside the EU may increase but could just as easily decrease.
- There will be more uncertainty. Much like businesses delaying investment decisions, schools may put strategic calls on hold. Thinking about becoming a MAT? Wanting to build a new building? Considering a significant change to your teacher training, or curriculum? Proposing to buy some new technology kit? Very tempting to just hold fire and see what happens
But don’t get too used to peace. By next Spring I expect we’ll have a new Education Secretary and team, a new Shadow team, and a new PM (and Leader of the Opposition?) holding – possibly – a five year mandate from a new election that will include new education commitments. Things won’t stay quiet for long!
Jonathan Simons, Head of Education, Policy Exchange