A Hung Parliament – what could it mean for education?

A DUP-Tory government could mean grammar school plans are scrapped and school leaders hope for spending budget reassessment

Grammar schools out

Politics fans will know that the DUP are certainly pro grammar, with schools in Northern Ireland being inherently selective and structured in a way that mirrors the pre-Blair system in the UK.

However, the Conservative Party has been left in such a weak position following the election that, even forming a government with the DUP, will not allow ministers to push through the much debated selective schools plans highlighted in their election manifesto.

It will only need seven Conservative ministers to oppose the bill, and there are at least 15 who have been very open about their opposition to grammar schools in particular – something which will no doubt come as a relief to anti grammar school campaigners.

Free school expansions continue

Toby Young, head of the New Schools Network (NSN), free schools advocate, and Theresa May champion, may also have sorely felt the minority result. May’s plans to build at least 100 new free schools - including selective grammars each year - remain a contentious issue.

Although the country agrees that more school places are needed – giving Mr Young his strongest argument in favour of free schools – many argue that free schools will be too costly are not held accountable, whilst local authority schools are left neglected.

In his role as Director of the NSN, Young was tasked with aiding the delivery of new free schools, which are autonomous from local authorities. He remains positive that the plans will go ahead and insists that free schools are the solution to the much needed school places, regardless of the nation’s opinions of grammars.

Post-election, the Conservative Party remains hugely divided over the issue of grammar schools. Some organisations, such as the National Union of Teachers, have suggested the initiative was an attempt to woo UKIP voters and that the policy won’t survive, suggesting that government should instead concentrate on school funding cuts.

School funding to be readdressed

The squeeze on school funding is already being felt by schools, resulting in very real and immediate consequences.

Stories have been all over the media revealing schools needing to close half an hour early to save money, parents being asked for donations, and teachers spending their own money on art materials and textbooks.

Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour interviewed Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, in the run-up to election day, and she revealed that a Conservative government has no plans to increase per pupil funding in the UK – a revelation that union leaders said confirmed their worst fears.

With the future of school funding now hanging in the balance it’s obvious that voters have reacted to the Conservative’s drastic cuts of 7 percent per pupil and the much lambasted plans to scrap universal free lunches for infant school pupils.

The Labour Party, in comparison, used their manifesto to pledge to increase school spending by 6 percent per pupil compared to present levels. The Liberal Democrat manifesto planned to protect spending in real terms at the 2017-18 level.

The DUP highlighted in its party manifesto that Northern Ireland’s direct spending by schools is the lowest in the UK – something the party pledges to change.

The manifesto also outlined the DUP’s intentions to empower its schools to “end the top-down culture of the Department of Education” by handing over control of budgets and resources to the schools themselves.

One interesting point is that the DUP makes far more mention of special needs schools and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) diagnoses than the Conservative manifesto.

The School Cuts website published research which revealed that, in reality, 93 percent of schools will experience real terms cuts to funding by 2022 under current plans.

Both the NUT and ATL unions have warned government that if it decides to press ahead with cuts, “campaigns will intensify over the coming weeks and months” – so the nation can expect to see more strike action from teachers.

Funding for universities and further education unclear

Schools may have been in the headlines for their financial struggles, but top UK universities have slipped down the global league table rankings – something which experts are blaming on cuts to funding within higher education.

The general consensus is that industry leaders need to be placing increasing pressure on the government to protect the rights of students coming from overseas, by allowing free movement following Brexit, and by discounting them from UK migration statistics.

The government needs to welcome and celebrate overseas students, ensuring that Brexit does not inflict significant damage to British higher education and science.

The University and College Union, which is the representative body for higher and further education institutions in the UK, has stated that the next government must prioritise investment and act swiftly in order to dispel any uncertainty over the position of EU nationals.

Potential good news for international students

Whilst Theresa May has refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens and the impact of Brexit and regressive Home Office policies have made the UK a less attractive place for international students to study, surveys reveal that the vast majority of UK students believe losing international students would negatively impact their university experience.

On a positive note, the DUP is keen to avoid a hard border with Ireland, which indicates it would be unlikely to want to jeopardise the UK’s intake of students from overseas post-Brexit.

However, it remains to be seen whether Theresa May will be willing to back down on her insistence that international students be included in migration figures.