A Hung Parliament, what does it mean for education?

It is a result that many hadn’t expected, certainly when the general election campaigns began in May, that we would be waking up to a hung parliament.

Whatever happens, it looks likely that the Conservatives will either form a government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to get them over the 326 seats needed, or look to run a minority government, relying on the support of smaller parties when needed to get their laws passed.

What will support from the DUP mean?

The Conservatives may seek some informal arrangement with the Democratic Unionists, which could see it support them on a vote-by-vote basis. The Conservatives are a far more plausible partner for the DUP, which is pro-Brexit and right of centre on many issues.

What are they likely to want in return for support? On Brexit, the DUP want the border with the Irish Republic to be as "seamless and frictionless" as possible. They will also look to cut VAT for tourism businesses, abolish Air Passenger Duty and review the price of ferries between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in a bid to boost tourism to the country.

But what about education?

The DUP have two key manifesto points on education:

  • Tackle underachievement by through support for early-years interventions
  • Increase shared education across all sectors
Other policies mentioned in the DUP manifesto
  • Further investment in job focused skills schemes like Assured Skills and Future Skills to provide potential investors and existing employers with the skilled workers they need to grow
  • A digital skills revolution in our schools, colleges and universities to enable young people to become digital citizens, digital workers and digital makers, ready for the modern economy
  • Continued delivery of the reformed apprenticeships and youth training systems
  • Efforts to deliver a better deal for NI business from the Apprenticeship Levy
What does a minority government mean?

The Conservatives could try to form a minority government, filling all the ministerial positions themselves. However, this would mean they are unable to pass laws and legislation without the votes of other parties that are not part of the government, like the Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats to get things done.

What does this mean for education?

Let’s not forget this general election has brought new manifestos, new pledges and commitments. A few weeks ago, we looked at what the three main political parties promised they would do for education. 

With a Conservative government still looking likely we have picked a few key points from their manifesto and explored what this will mean for the education sector.:

Increase the overall schools budget in England by an extra £4bn by 2022 - This will be partly funded by ending the current provision of free school lunches for all infant pupils in England. The Education Policy Institute’s analysis found that about 900,000 children who are either eligible for the pupil premium supplement or classed as being in ordinary working families will lose the right to a free lunch, however the poorest children would continue to receive a free lunch.

As an alternative, free breakfast will be offered for primary school children. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has concluded that free breakfasts improved the performance of young children and were likely to be “more cost-effective”. However, giving a free breakfast to every primary school child in England could cost more than the £60m set aside for it, which has been based on a 25% take-up rate. Experts analysing the plans re-costed them at between £180m and £400m, depending on how many pupils take them. Where is the extra money going to come from to fund this?

Establish an Institute of Technology (IoT) in every major city in England - IoTs will be eligible for public funding for productivity and skills research, access to loans and grants for their students and will be able to gain royal charter status and regius professorships in technical education.

Here we see a convergence between skills, vocational and technical education with the emergence of a tertiary system which may bring the further and higher education sectors even closer together.

These might only be words but they show a will to make a real and sustained investment in further education and skills. If this is the case, then higher education needs to watch out. As we’ve seen before a Conservative government is willing to look across the breadth of the education system for policy initiatives – see university-school sponsorship as an example - and there is a perception that there’s money in higher education which could be spent elsewhere. A redoubled emphasis on technical education could mean a very disruptive few years for higher education and universities.

A promise for a “major review” of tertiary education funding - Hidden in the Conservatives’ manifesto it says "To ensure that further, technical and higher education institutions are treated fairly, we will also launch a major review of funding across tertiary education as a whole, looking at how we can ensure that students get access to financial support that offers value for money, is available across different routes and encourages the development of the skills we need as a country.”

It seems unlikely that these funding reviews would result in the adoption of a similar position to Labour but the very existence of these commitments shows that there is no longer much confidence in the current system.

Ask universities and independent schools to help run state schools - If universities want to charge maximum tuition fees, they will be required to "become involved" in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools. With a pledge to “Open at least 100 new free schools a year” it’s not unreasonable to conclude that many of these will be expected to be delivered through new school-university collaborations.

Considering that just over half of universities are currently involved in such measures, any future development of this policy must involve close consultation with universities and schools, consider local needs, and be based on evidence of what good school-university collaboration looks like.

Throughout the manifesto there is a clear commitment to encourage the world to study in the UK - Universities should seize this as an opportunity to drive an ambitious expansion of government-backed international marketing campaigns to promote the UK as the best destination in the world to study. University leaders need to work with politicians to communicate a welcoming and consistent message to international students. The challenge for universities lies in making the case that they are the solution to the questions being asked.

However, the pledge to keep international students in net migration targets, tougher requirements for student visas and tighter rules on allowing them to stay and work is a painful double whammy for universities. It's important to ensure the focus remains on visa compliance rather than any move to deny qualified international students access to UK universities.

Other policies mentioned in the manifesto

• Open at least 100 new free schools a year

• Every 11-year-old will be expected to know their times tables off by heart

• Change the rules to allow the establishment of new Roman Catholic schools

• Introduce the new school funding formula and guarantee that no school will have its budget cut

• End the ban on new selective schools. New conditions would include allowing pupils to join at "other ages as well as eleven"

• Open a specialist maths school in every major city in England

• Introduce Technical Levels known as T-Levels

• Explore teaching apprenticeships sponsored by major companies, especially in STEM subjects

• Introduce a “Ucas-style portal for technical education”. The government’s industrial strategy green paper published in January called for a “course-finding process for technical education similar to the Ucas process”

• Introduce significantly discounted bus and train travel for apprentices to ensure that no young person is deterred from an apprenticeship due to travel costs

• Work to build up the investment funds of universities across the UK

• Doubling of the "Skills Charge" from £1,000 to £2,000 per employee per year for employers who hire non-EU immigrants in skilled jobs. The revenue from this charge will go into skills training for UK workers

• Create a right for employees to request leave for training, and introduce a “national retraining scheme”, with training costs met by the government. Companies will be able to access levy funding to support wage costs during the training period

We recently surveyed the education market to find out what the real challenges and issues people working in the sector come across every day. You can download our summary report for free here:

What are the real challenges and issues people working in education face?

Previous post
New Call-to-action