- Further emphasis on vocational education
- Computer coding introduced in schools
- Progress in rebuilding the relationship with teachers
More to do
- Regaining trust whilst continuing legacy of the Gove reforms
- Need for strong intervention in the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair
- Increasing influence of civil servants/bloggers
- Outspoken policy interventions from Ofsted
- Free Schools and a reformed curriculum
2014 will be remembered in educational circles as the year in which David Cameron dispatched one of the most controversial Secretaries of State for Education this country has ever seen.
The surprise culling of Michael Gove in a midsummer reshuffle, and his replacement with Nicky Morgan, was partly an effort to rebuild the Government’s fractured relationship with teachers, but partly an acknowledgement that the minister, rather than the policy, had become the story.
Despite his departure, Mr Gove’s scorn for the ‘the blob’, a disparaging term for opponents of educational reform first used in the States under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, has influenced government policy in a way that continues to be felt.
In an effort to repair the fractious legacy of the Gove years, the new Secretary of State has launched measures aimed at strengthening relationships with the teaching community. Following a conciliatory speech from Mrs Morgan at Conservative party conference in which she pledged to “do everything I can” to reduce the workload of teachers, DfE launched the ‘Workload Challenge’ in October this year. A consultation asking teachers to give feedback on issues to do with excessive workload (long a bugbear), the Workload Challenge is intended to initiate a more collaborative working approach with the unions and teachers than has been seen in recent years.
In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement in September, Mrs Morgan stressed that any further reform would be a “two-way process”, and revealed that she had sent an email to every teacher during their first week back at school, thanking them for the work they had put in. However, despite the Secretary of State’s conciliatory tone, most of the unpopular government reforms had already been instituted by Mr Gove prior to her arrival, and she is not about to undo any of his work.
Despite the hopes of some, Mrs Morgan has not reversed unpopular Gove-era reforms, such as scrapping national curriculum levels, decoupling AS-levels and A-levels, and introducing tougher GCSEs. In fact, she has introduced a freshly controversial policy that would mean that no school could be graded good or outstanding by Ofsted unless every child is entered for the English Baccalaureate performance measure.
In policy terms, 2014 can be seen as the year in which vocational education and STEM were pushed to the forefront of the Government’s priorities. Apprenticeships continue to be name-checked in all education speeches, and BIS ran a consultation on apprenticeship funding models (PAYE versus credits). Labour has attempted to steal ground on vocational education, announcing they would institute vocational degrees and consider introducing a requirement for all apprenticeships to be level 3 and above.
Computer coding was officially added to the national curriculum in September, with support from major industry players such as Google and Microsoft.
The former ICT curriculum, scrapped by Gove for being “too dull” for teaching students how to use Word and Excel, rather than to create their own computer programs, was replaced with a renewed focus on industry-led STEM skills such as programming and coding. However, not all within the industry have been supportive, and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia raised the prospect that the new curriculum, which is compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 14, might be too demanding.
2014 also saw the spectre of Islamic extremism in British schools become a major point of concern. In Birmingham, the Council revealed that it was investigating 25 schools over the alleged ‘Trojan Horse’ plot by some extremist Muslim groups to install governors at schools. In July Peter Clarke’s report for the DfE was officially released: it found no evidence of extremism, but it did find that “there are a number of people in a position of influence who either espouse, or sympathise with or fail to challenge extremist views”.
With Michael Gove no longer its figurehead, the Government will look at the end of its five-year education policy as radical and far-reaching, but far less toxic than it threatened to become. A quiet end to the Parliament would represent a good result for Nicky Morgan.