London

London's education and the election trail

Classroom Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Grammar schools, pupil premium, free school meals, early years funding and tuition fees could be key to any coalition negotiations

Few can forget the mauling the Lib Dems suffered for breaking their tuition fees pledge. Not surprisingly, there are precious few lines being drawn in the sand this time around.

So what are the parties offering in terms of education policy in the capital?

The Conservatives say they would open 500 new free schools by 2020.

The merits of the policy may still be up for debate, but this new breed of school appears to be a permanent fixture on the education landscape.

The Lib Dems helped launch them and the Labour Party says it will not close any, but would only allow "parent-led academies" to open going forward.

It has always been a strange concept - the idea of parents with enough expertise in running a school being willing to give up their time for free in an area of acute demand for places sounds fanciful - but somehow Michael Gove's baby has survived attacks from all sides.

In truth, only a tiny proportion of free schools are actually opened by parents, the latest wave of 49 announced in March had only one truly originated by parents.

This isn't to say it has not allowed teachers, charities and small academy chains the freedom to flourish, but it certainly is not quite what was advertised on the tin.

Image copyright AFP/getty images
Image caption London pupils receive more funding compared to pupils elsewhere

Where they open will be even more crucial, especially in London, where space and school places are the big factors.

'Cold hard cash'

The capital's schools have also seen their position as the most successful performers in the country grow.

Some put it down to the legacy of London Challenge, launched in 2003 by Labour to improve the quality of education through better leadership, support and sharing of best practice among schools and local authorities.

Others credit London's diverse ethnic mix. But less talked about is the role of cold hard cash.

London pupils receive more funding compared to pupils elsewhere, and it's long been a bugbear for heads in rural communities that they face an uphill struggle to match their urban contemporaries.

"Fair Funding" is already being whispered about in Westminster corridors, but a redistribution of funding will inevitably drain money from London and some would argue impact standards.

And who will oversee how standards improve?

After cutting local authorities out of the loop, the government filled the gap with eight Regional Schools Commissioners, with three covering London.

Labour favours an even trickier tongue-twister and would re-brand them "independent directors of school standards".

The parties have already lined up their education bargaining chips for the inevitable post-election horse-trading.

Grammar schools, pupil premium, free school meals, early years funding and tuition fees could all be thrown around in the mix of any coalition negotiations.

And finally teachers' views could come to the front of the class much more than over the past five years.

There is no doubt former education secretary Mr Gove lost the floor, and regardless of the potential benefits his reforms may eventually bring, the fact is it is extremely hard to implement controversial policies when your foot-soldiers are constantly crying mutiny.

His replacement, Nicky Morgan, successfully diffused the situation with plaudits for the teachers she had seen ''in classrooms up and down the country''.

With tough decisions ahead on pay and pensions - not to mention the ongoing struggles in recruitment and retention - the charm offensive looks set to continue.

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