The Governments plan to force all local schools to become academies, announced by George Osborne on 16th March during this years budget has created evident tension at various high profile meetings between Teachers and Government Ministers from the Department for Education. Nevertheless the Government appears to be digging in its heels, although they have disclosed that there is room for exceptions for Schools run by the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church. Yet they have a huge amount of work to do, to persuade their own backbenchers to back a policy that is deeply unpopular amongst many Conservative MPs, Parents, Councils and even amongst many of the existing academy chains. It is hard to believe that the Government has found a policy that is so unpopular, that they did not include in their manifesto in 2015 and yet they continue to defend proving that they are not listening to anyone. This is at odds with the views of Ed Vaizey speaking about the naming of a boat where he stated the Government should “respect the will of the people”.
However the problems in the Department for Education do not end with the defence of a policy dreamed up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during a budget. His own failure to allocate adequate resources to the DfE to pay for a policy that was in the manifesto, and that he suggested could be speeded up by comparison to the manifesto plans are in complete dissaray. In the manifesto the Conservatives promised to double the amount of free provision at Nurseries and Pre-Schools from 15 hours a week to 30 hours by 2017. To be fair this was widely recognised as a last minute and uncosted promise, but a manifesto is a manifesto. After the Tories won the election they promised to bring forward the plans for families in some areas so that by September 2016, this promise is due to be made good. One of these areas is York, and they have been exploring the offer in advance of September. As this article points out the majority of childcare providers in York have refused to trial the 30-hour childcare expansion because the rates being offered are insufficient. Around 30 of approximately 45 settings in York said they will not be trialling the 30 hours free entitlement at the current rate of funding. Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said there is a risk what providers across the country will also refuse to offer the 30 hours. “The lessons taken from the 30-hour trials will be absolutely pivotal to the success of the scheme as a whole, and so it is incredibly concerning that the government is risking falling at the first hurdle by continuing to offer insufficient levels of funding. If the Department for Education doesn’t address these long-standing funding issues, there is every possibility that we will see what is currently happening in York happening on a national scale, with more and more providers opting not to deliver the extended entitlement.”
It seems clear that the Department for Education is in a degree of crisis, unable to deliver its promised policies, and trying to deliver unwanted policies that it did not promise. Assuming that the Government has a reshuffle in early July following the EU referendum, one wonders if Nicky Morgan will be able to retain her role? although as this clip shows if the Prime Minister is unable to answer questions that 11 year olds are required to answer, perhaps it is the whole of Government that is in crisis.