The reluctance of the Conservative party to take credit for the success of its education reforms is a source of increasing bewilderment to me. With each passing year, the A-level and GCSE results of free schools and academies provide yet more evidence that liberating state schools from the dead hand of local authority control has had a transformational effect — and 2019 is no exception. Free schools such as the London Academy of Excellence in Stratford and Michaela Community School in Wembley have chalked up some of the best results in the country, while academy chains such as the Harris Federation and the City of London Academies Trust have cemented their places at the top of the league table. Yet, incredibly, education is still a vote loser for the Tories.
In the 2017 general election, Labour did unexpectedly well among 30- to 39-year-olds, with a 26-point lead over the Conservatives, and among 40- to 49-year-olds, with a five-point lead. Why? In part because parents bought into the cuts narrative being peddled by the National Union of Teachers, which spent more money on campaigning in the 12 months beforehand than Ukip did. To hear the NUT tell it, Scrooge-like Conservative education ministers had cut school spending to the bone, forcing overworked headteachers to send begging letters to parents asking them to pay for essentials such as toilet paper. In fact, real terms per-pupil spending on those aged five to 16 doubled between 1997 and 2010 and was then ring-fenced by the coalition government. Between 2015 and 2017, spending was frozen in cash terms, which amounted to a real terms cut of about 4 per cent. If any headteachers couldn’t cope with a 4 per cent cut after their budgets had doubled in the previous 18 years, that suggests serious financial mismanagement. (To read more, click here.)