The Queen has spoken! Parliament is back! The Queen’s speech was met by an eagerly awaiting public (and a room full of people in daft robes). The surprising (to many) result of the election and subsequent minority government meant no one was entirely sure what exactly would and wouldn’t make the cut from the Conservative manifesto.
Policies without the unanimous support of the party were under the microscope, not to mention those that might upset a not-so-stable confidence deal with the DUP. Brexit was understandably the major talking point and always likely to take centre stage. For education, there are talking points for what was – and just as significantly, what was not – included.
What was mentioned?
The speech was light on education proposals. There was a passing reference to ensuring every child has the opportunity to attend a good school, and for all schools to be fairly funded. It is speculative in the extreme to suggest these define any concrete proposals. ‘More good school places’ led a section in the manifesto with commitments to build more free schools and lift the ban on grammar schools. However, the lack of detail in the speech is telling.
The most firm commitment made regarding education was to reform technical education, to equip young people with the skills they need for the ‘jobs of the future’. The manifesto mentioned replacing existing technical qualifications with new ‘T-levels’, investment in facilities and 3 million apprenticeships for young people. It will be interesting to see which of these are included in the reference to technical education in the Queen’s speech.
What was left out?
One Conservative proposal was for a removal of the ban on new selective schools. It’s been one of the biggest recurring issues in the education world over the last year or so, but it’s fair to say didn’t have the overwhelming support of the public (or even the whole of the Conservative party). It may yet return to the table; with some speculation of a ‘modest pilot’ still on the cards, but it was certainly conspicuous in its absence in the Queen’s speech.
Another feature of the Conservative manifesto was the plan to drop universal infant free school meals. These were to be replaced with free school breakfasts to all primary school children. However, this was not included in the Queen’s speech. This change had been proposed as a cost-saving measure, with the savings added to the core school’s budget. What the absence of this proposal means for the education budget remains to be seen.
Is this set in stone?
Short answer – no. The Queen’s speech is not the absolute list of policy proposals for the coming parliament. The last line, “other measures will be laid before you”, means more can be put to parliament. It sets the government’s agenda, but is more a statement of intent than an exhaustive list.
This particular speech was also delivered in fairly special circumstances. The snap election and resulting lack of majority meant this speech has been perceived as a climb down of sorts; an admission that the bolder elements of the manifesto cannot be forged ahead.
The Prime Minister has also cancelled the Queen’s speech for next year, which in essence makes this an agenda for a two year parliament rather than the usual one. Although this is to give parliament more time with the Brexit plans, presumably some domestic policies will be passed in that time. Grammar schools and universal infant free school meals may not have appeared in the speech today, but we may not have heard the last of them.