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Bright Blue held its second Education Forum on Thursday, revisiting the the Two Chairmen in Westminster to chat through education policy over beer and peanuts.

It was a timely meeting, with the third reading of the Education and Adoption Bill being approved by the House of Commons the day before. The Bill will make it easier for failing and coasting schools to convert into academies and, unsurprisingly, the academy programme was first on the list for discussion. There was a consensus that academies provide an excellent vehicle for school leadership, a key way of driving up standards, with a range of views being put forward as to how th academy system could be further improved.

This discussion on improvements grew to encompass free schools and it was suggested that it is vital that individual free schools and academies, whilst retaining their independent ethos, found ways to share best practise with each other. The Schools Commissioner Group was proposed as an organisation capable of promoting such collaboration, if expanded.

There was also discussion around the Labour argument that free schools should only be located in areas with a need for new school places. It was suggested that this argument missed the point of free schools, as they are not intended as stop-gaps to meet educational pressures, but as catalysts for the improvement of low-achieving schools across the whole area. Another topic raised was the need to expand the free schools and academy programme – it was argued that the focus of education policy should broaden out from turning around failing schools to transforming life chances for pupils. ‘Coasting’ pupils were identified as requiring extra support, children whose primary goal was to survive the school day without getting told off rather than as an opportunity to learn.

It was agreed that outdated attitudes to education played a role in fostering such an uninspired approach to schooling, and that whilst pupils could perhaps ‘coast along’ several decades ago and still secure a job at the end of it, this was no longer the case in a competitive globalised world. As the stream of conversation flowed on, a range of other topics bobbed their way to the surface, including the role of religion in schools and the need to boost the status of teachers in society.

Closing the session, Forum Chairman Cllr Chris Hayes highlighted the opportunity open to Conservatives now Labour has ducked into the thickets of fantasy politics – to enhance and extend the Gove-Morgan revolution and ensure that empowered schools and academies challenge every child to be the best.  

Warm thanks to Chris for chairing another fascinating discussion, and to all the participants for their contributions. With a range of events booked for the party conferences, and many more forums to come, there is every opportunity to join us for the next round.

Matt Browne is an Associate at Bright Blue and tweets @MattRCBrowne