Everyone seems to like Education Secretary Damian Hinds but almost as many people ask: “Where are the policies?”
And his Conference speech was more of the same – the “announcements”, such as they were, were essentially re-heated existing policies: the next stage of English hubs, more money for behaviour training for teachers and the promise of updated guidance, an extension of the careers strategy into more schools, and more money to develop the T-Levels programme.
But for many in the sector, the pace and scale of the Gove-era reforms – new exams, the introduction of free schools, the turbo-charging of the academies programme, and changes to teacher training – mean that no change, and allowing the reforms to bed in, is no bad thing.
Indeed it was what Mr Hinds didn’t include that was most note-worthy – and they included arguably the two biggest challenges facing the sector and the areas where teachers and school leaders would desperately like to see change.
The first, more school funding, is an issue that headteachers had marched on Downing Street to protest about, but Mr Hinds reminded his audience only that England is a “strong investor” in education compared to other countries. The second is teacher recruitment and retention, though he did praise those in the profession. And nor did he address teacher workload, which he has previously and often cited as his top priority.
And while his opposite number Angela Rayner, the Labour education spokesperson, had made academies and their oversight the key theme of her speech the previous week, Mr Hinds said nothing of tightening up issues like CEO pay or related party transactions, though he did mount a staunch defence of the academies and free schools programme, and the Government’s record on education overall, warning how Ms Rayner’s proposal to “take all publicly funded schools back into council control” would “turn back the clock”.