Following the Conservative party’s election victory, David Cameron has retained all of his party’s existing Department for Education ministers, adding two new faces to replace lost Liberal Democrats.
Without delay, education secretary Nicky Morgan has already signalled the party will press ahead with its free schools and academy agenda, pledging to sack headteachers at schools considered to be failing or ‘coasting’ that fail to make improvements themselves and turn them into academies. The new powers, to be announced in the Queen’s speech, spell concern for councils that argue Whitehall has neither the capacity nor local knowledge to support schools centrally.
The Conservative manifesto promised to open at least 500 new free schools over the next parliament and commit £18bn to new school buildings to counter the current shortfall in school places. But as the Local Government Association warned ahead of the election, if councils are not given powers to open new schools themselves, primary pupil numbers will exceed places in two in five council areas by September 2016.
The party has also announced it will prioritise plans to double free childcare entitlements from 15 to 30 hours a week for all three- and four-year-olds. Prior to the election, research published by the Pre-School Learning Alliance calculated the change would cost £1.5bn – far more than the £350m earmarked by the Conservatives. Many local authorities are still struggling to provide free childcare places for disadvantaged two-year-olds – a scheme introduced under the coalition. Cuts-hit early years departments will now be left wondering how to meet these new demands.
In the coming months, local government leaders will also be urging ministers to address concerns over Ofsted’s single inspections framework of children’s services. The current regime has so far found 70% of councils to be less than ‘good’, while local authority figures since 2007 show 20 of 29 performance indicators in children’s services have improved.
In March a joint report by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers and LGA condemned the “deeply flawed” inspection system and called for it to be scrapped. The Tory party has made no promises of a review, but mounting pressure could force their hand.
Introducing regional adoption agencies is another manifesto pledge the government is sure to act upon swiftly. The Tories are proud of their record of increasing adoption rates by 63% between 2011 and 2014. However, children and families minister Edward Timpson said in April progress had been “far too slow”.
Analysis: Existing Tory team retained to drive through education reform