The result of the general election shocked most people. Theresa May obviously called the election in the belief that she would increase her majority in the Commons – and therefore her mandate – considerably. Even the most ardent supporters of The Labour Party wouldn’t have believed it would gain so many seats.
Of course, with a hung parliament outcome it could be argued that there are no winners. The Conservatives have lost a slim majority but are still the leading party. Labour have made gains but not enough to take control.
So, what does the general election result mean for education?
Well, as with the Brexit referendum result of last year, the simple answer to that is ‘we don’t know’. At the time of writing, with no agreement yet finalised between the Tories and the DUP, we can only speculate on what the contents of The Queen’s Speech might be. It certainly looks likely that it will differ quite widely from the Conservative Manifesto, but the truth is that we will have to wait and see.
But education was definitely a key issue in the election.
Education – a battleground for political parties trying to score points?
Cynics would argue that any election is nothing more than a battleground that political parties fight to score points and earn victories on. The issue of education often features in the election battleground, but this time it really became one of the major battles.
The way in which the #GE2017 campaign was fought was a noticeable shift from elections over the last 30 years. During that time, elections have generally been focused on winning votes in the ‘centre ground’. In 2017, it became more much of an ideological choice between the left and right – and this was clearly shown with the manifesto pledges on education from the main parties.
The Conservative Manifesto focused on the main issue of re-introducing grammar schools, creating more free schools, and the new funding formula for schools. These were issues that had received a fair amount of criticism, even from several Conservatives. The manifesto also included the replacement of free school lunches with free breakfasts.
In contrast, the Labour Manifesto placed education as central to its core offer: free lunches remained, but other key proposals included increased funding for schools, the removal of the salary pay cap for teachers, and – of course – removing university tuition fees. The introduction of a ‘National Education Service’ to enable free education for all at the point of entry was another Labour pledge.
Why did education become such a key election issue?
It was the scrapping of university tuition fees that grabbed all the headlines. The increased youth participation in the election was no doubt influenced, in part, by this pledge. But the right wing media’s claim that young people only voted because of the promise of ‘free stuff’ is wide of the mark. Education was an issue that influenced votes across all age ranges.
The new funding formula for schools affects many affluent, middle class and typically Conservative constituencies more than most. There was already a groundswell of discontent emerging even before the election was called. This is best illustrated by the example of Laura Smith, the newly elected Labour MP for Crewe & Nantwich. A local teacher and mother, she was so appalled by the impact of funding cuts that she organised campaign for Fairer Funding for All in Cheshire East. Despite having no political ambitions, she was selected as the Labour candidate and subsequently won the seat from the Tories.
Time will tell how big a part education will play in The Queen’s Speech, but it is clear that it played a bigger part than most would have expected in the election result.