A week is a long time…
The political pace shows no sign of slackening and the surprises keep coming. When I last wrote – OK, more than a week, but only weeks, not months – I highlighted concerns about the threat of the French presidential election to European stability and about a “resoundingly re-elected” Theresa May.
Well, it turns out that a less-than-resoundingly re-elected Theresa May could, for the time being at least, have eased independent schools’ anxieties on at least two fronts.
Labour’s plan to finance free school meals by imposing VAT on school fees is off the radar, at least until the next general election (bets, anyone?).
And at the time of writing, and never has that standard caveat seemed more important, it seems that the new-old administration’s forthcoming legislative programme will be shorn of anything likely to cause the slightest of parliamentary tremors.
That will almost certainly spell the end of any proposal to open many new grammar schools. The proposal, a personal project of the Prime Minister’s, was, even before the election, causing dissent within the Conservative party, where grammar school enthusiasm is less than unanimous.
Asked by the TES, on the morning after the election, what the result meant for the grammar school plan, a source close to No 10 (in all probability, May’s now departed joint chief of staff Nick Timothy) used a short Anglo-Saxon expletive.
In this, as in other policy areas, the paradox is that the permanent instability caused by the Brexit crisis has brought, for now, an almost unhealthy calm everywhere else.
Sort of … weak and stable.
But schools would be unwise to think the threat – contained in the Conservative manifesto’s ominous reference to “changing the tax status” of charitable schools unless at least 100 “leading independent schools” sponsor academies or free schools – has vanished for good. The notion of holding the independent sector’s feet to the fire on partnership with the state sector now commands wide support across the political spectrum.
So prudent schools will do what some have started to do in conducting regular audits of their partnership activities and their supportive relationship with their local communities. That means subjecting them to genuinely critical analysis and publishing them in, for example, on their websites and in annual reports to the Charity Commission.
Before long, such a requirement may well become compulsory so better get in some practice. Remember, you read it here first.