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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: April 2015

10 - The coalition and society (II): Education


The accelerating pace of educational reform since the 1988 Act quickened still further in the 2010–15 parliament. There were three new acts, but also many of the powers acquired by previous acts were put to use. The heightened activity was partly because the programme had to embrace the ambitions of two parties. But the main impetus came from the new Secretary of State, Michael Gove, who in his three years shadowing the post had developed very clear ideas about what he wanted to achieve. In post, he pressed hard, anxious to embed as many of the desired changes as he could while he still held the reins.

Education was prominent in the 2010 manifestos of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. Both envisaged more freedom for schools and extra money to raise the attainment of pupils from low-income families (the pupil premium). They also agreed on the need to improve the quality of teaching, proposing to increase school-led teacher training and expand the Teach First scheme. But there were differences in emphasis, with the Conservatives placing more on new schools, higher standards and improved discipline, while the Liberal Democrats stressed fairness.

Inevitably, with two parties in government there have had to be compromises, but in the field of education, given the similarity of the manifestos, it was relatively easy to reach agreement, with one notable exception. Some of the compromises resulted in better policy. The Liberal Democrats pushed the pupil premium higher up the agenda than it might have been, and the Conservatives were so pleased with it that they let it be thought it was their policy. They were much less keen on Nick Clegg's free lunches for all infant school pupils, which had to be afforded a tightly constrained budget, with the additional expense of new kitchens.