Damian Hinds and the Conservative Party conference: what was new?
We take a look here at what was new in the key policy announcements made by Damian Hinds in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference.
The Education Secretary's Party Conference speech
In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Damian Hinds made much of the need for investment in our education system. Indeed, he said 'a world class education depends on our investment in the future', presumably including university tuition and private school fees following widespread criticism of the DfE's use of statistics? Putting that to one side, what was new in the key policy announcements made by Damian Hinds?
Centres of excellence
Damian Hinds' first key policy announcement was of 32 primary schools and 21 colleges which will act as 'centres of excellence' for best practice in early literacy teaching and the teaching of maths for ages 16 and above. However, this was more a re-announcement of a policy launched by Justine Greening, as Secretary of State for Education, on 6th January 2018 when she launched a £26m fund to establish 35 English hubs across the country. As such, all Damian Hinds announced was a re-badging of the hubs as 'centres of excellence', an expansion of their remit to include both literacy and maths and a reduction in the number of 'centres' from 35 to 32.
Damian Hinds' second key policy announcement was of a further £10m to support the sharing of best practice and knowledge on behaviour and classroom management. While this was a new policy, what wasn't new is that the £10m will be drawn from the existing DfE budget given the tight hold which HM Treasury keeps on its purse strings.
Damian Hinds' third key policy announcement was of a £38m capital pot so that colleges can teach T-levels, a technical alternative to A-levels, with 'world class equipment and facilities'. While T-levels themselves are not a new policy announcement, the £38m capital fund is. However, as above, this is not extra money but will need to be found or re-allocated from elsewhere in the DfE budget.
In his fourth key policy announcement, Damian Hinds said the DfE will be doubling the number of trained careers leaders in schools. However, the Careers Strategy launched by the DfE on 4th December 2017 envisages that every school and college will aim to have a dedicated careers leader in place by the start of the new school year, backed by a £4m fund. The strategy also plans to boost careers support in areas of most need, with a £5m fund to create 20 careers hubs although, on closer reading, the £4m for careers leaders would appear to be included in the £5m for careers hubs. Damian Hinds' policy announcement was therefore nothing new and failed to clarify the funding position.
School sports action plan
Damian Hinds' final key policy announcement to the Conservative Party Conference was of a school sports action plan to make sure that sporting opportunities are spread as widely as possible so that every child is able to benefit. According to the speech, the plan will be a new cross Government initiative working with bodies like the RFU, the Premier League and England Netball. While the school sports action plan was preluded in advance, this was ostensibly a new policy announcement though no detail was given on timescale for implementation and, importantly, what funding (if any) will be earmarked to support the initiative.
Despite the fanfare and virtue ascribed by Damian Hinds to investment in the education system, his conference speech was in many ways a recycling of old policy announcements and existing money re-allocated from elsewhere in an already over-stretched DfE budget. Despite the upcoming Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review, it will inevitably be the case that very little will change.
For Graham Shaw's article on the Labour Party conference please click here
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