Publication of the week: Professor Alan Smithers30 March 2015
Alan Smithers, “Education”, in Anthony Seldon and Mike Finn (eds), The Coalition Effect, 2010-15 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 257-289. ISBN: 978-1-107-44018-0.
In his chapter on education in The Coalition Effect, edited by Anthony Seldon and Mike Finn, Alan Smithers argues that the government rushed to unsettling reforms, but was given an ‘easy ride’ by Labour.
The coalition partners found it relatively easy to reach agreement on education policy with one disastrous exception. They both readily signed up to more autonomy for schools, a pupil premium and re-basing teacher training. But on student tuition fees the Liberal Democrats had to renege on a highly-publicised pledge.
In compromising on fees the Lib Dems extracted a price which has left the taxpayer with an unaffordable bill for higher education. They also blocked the reunification of education in one government department so as to have higher education under their control.
Michael Gove, as education secretary, pressed hard, anxious to embed major reforms while he still held the reins. But his increasingly mistrusting and pugilistic style discomforted even those who strongly supported his aims.
Gove’s departure left a lot of unfinished business on academies, qualifications, apprenticeships and fair funding. A new Conservative government, or a new Conservative-dominated coalition, is very likely to see these through.
But what a Labour-led government would do is far from clear. Rather than an attractive alternative narrative, it has so far only offered bits and pieces.