The last 12 months have been interesting to say the least! It started with the White Paper and the headline ”all schools to become academies” which threw the sector into change mode. The “U-turn” that followed soon after, plus the Brexit vote and a change of Prime Minister and Education Secretary, appears to have temporarily slowed down this pace of change.

However, Regional Schools Commissioners now appear to have developed regional strategies to encourage all schools to convert to academy status. These strategies are being implemented and, with around 16,000 schools still under local authority control, the pace of change is expected to increase again soon.

The focus on education began with the Life chances speech by David Cameron on 11 January 16. This was followed by “Britain – the great meritocracy” speech by Theresa May on 9 Sept 2016. In her speech she stated that the starting place is education. There was nothing new in her statement about academies but she made it very clear that she wants to encourage innovation to help improve the quality of schools.

In 2017 things have continued to move on at a pace with the “Shared society” article by Theresa May on 8 January 2017. This article was about social reform following Brexit. She mentions “building a great meritocracy where every child has the opportunity of a good school place”

This was followed swiftly by the “Education at the core of social mobility” speech by Justine Greening on 18 January 2017. Her 3 priorities for driving social mobility through education are:

  1. tackling geographic disadvantage,
  2. investing in long-term capacity in our system and
  3. making sure our education system as a whole really prepares young people and adults for career success”

Today we have had the budget which has developed the way forward for the sector. The key promises are as follows:

  • £320M to help fund 140 free schools;
  • £216M for infrastructure to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools;
  • Extension of the free home-to-school travel for selective schools;
  • New T levels will replace post-16 vocational qualifications;
  • The number of hours of training for technical students aged 16 to 19 increased by more than 50%;
  • Apprentices will have a high-quality, three-month work placement;
  • Maintenance loans to part time undergraduates and doctoral loans in all subjects for the first time;
  • Maintenance loans for those undertaking higher level technical qualifications at the new Institutes of Technology and National Colleges;
  • Investment of up to £40m in pilots to test the effectiveness of different approaches to lifelong learning.

On top of this we also have the Technical and Further Education Bill which has just had its third reading in the House of Lords. This will introduce the new Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education from April 2017. We also have the Higher Education and Research Bill which is at the report stage in the House of Lords. This introduces the Teaching excellence Framework and encourages competitiveness in the sector and opportunities for students.

With the Post-16 Skills plan, 5 Area Reviews of general further education and sixth form colleges and the very recent Industrial Strategy Green Paper we are beginning to see the framework develop for the future of 16-19 education.

And finally, the budget confirmed the announcement by Theresa May earlier this week that a new Schools White Paper will be published in the coming weeks which will continue the development of the academy sector even further. This will ask universities and private schools to sponsor new free schools.

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