Many on the left have long been critical of the education reforms that took place under the Thatcher government. There are valid reasons for this, though possibly not the ones that they would cite. Despite the semblance of some market-based reforms, there was also an increase in bureaucracy and a transfer of power from LEAs to central government – parents were still not centre stage. Reform was focussed upon subverting the pernicious power and actions of LEAs, unions and some teachers, rather than rolling back the state. The most radical policies were put on the backburner.
The creation of City Technology Colleges, pushed by Sir Cyril Taylor, was one reform that Thatcher got right. Sir Cyril convinced Labour to keep the faith and in 2000 Lord Adonis was the driving force behind the creation of the Academies system, much to the consternation of trade unions. Although still not unburdened of all regulations that previous governments had pilled upon the delivery of education, the fact that Academies could innovate on the core national curriculum, circumvent national teacher pay deals and cut out the worst of the bureaucracy was another step in the right direction. One wonders why Blair went to the trouble of getting rid of grant-maintained schools.
No matter who comes to power, I am in no doubt that there will have to be further moves towards greater freedom in education. Michael Gove plans go furthest and he should be credited for the robust defence of his policies. The promised introduction of the Swedish model of education is a ray of hope in an otherwise unclear future. And it is not just the Swedish reforms that are to be commended. The Times Educational Supplement has found that Academy numbers would likely triple under a Conservative government.
Labour have run out of ideas, while the Liberal Democrats promise to turn the clock back and localise power in education, with the LEAs once more taking centre stage. The Conservative Party, in this area at least, look set to finish the job that Thatcher started and give power back to parents, as near-consumers of education.