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The political circle

12 May 2016

On 18 May, the Queen will set out the Conservative Government’s plans for their second year. Out of curiosity, I looked at what the Labour Government proposed 10 years ago in their second Queen’s Speech of the 2005-10 Parliament. It is remarkable how history repeats itself. Her Majesty told the assembled MPs and Peers in 2006 that a “programme of educational reform will continue to raise standards in schools to help all children achieve their full potential” and “A bill will be introduced to reform the further education system so that it can better equip people with the skills that they and the economy need.” We can expect much the same from our nonagenarian monarch next week. An education bill will be brought forward by the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan. This was meant to focus on converting all schools to academy status, but this has been dropped, following opposition from many backbenchers. So we can perhaps anticipate a greater focus on careers advice and the expected proposals to ensure colleges and others can access schools to tell young people about all their post-16 options. This legislation is also likely to affect what 16 to 18-year-olds do. Ministers may seek to amend the Labour legislation which ensured all young people remain in education or training until the age of 18 by defining that they must be taking an apprenticeship, A Levels or ‘technical professional education’ along 15 routes aligned with key business and industry sectors. Meanwhile, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers have ambitious plans to reform higher education, including abolishing the Higher Education Funding Council for England which will become a champion for students and hopefully ensuring the system becomes more flexible allowing colleges to provide more affordable, quality, part-time, work-related qualifications. 2006 also saw legislation “to improve the way that offenders are managed and supervised.” 2016 will see a bill to reform prisons including the education provided to inmates. For some colleges, this is a major part of their work so we will work to ensure their expertise continues to be utilised. Finally, and perhaps it doesn’t set the heart racing, but there may be a bill on buses. This came up in 2006 too when legislation was introduced to “provide for free off-peak local bus travel for pensioners and disabled people.” We are still feeling the impact of this 10 years later as it is often used by councils as an excuse as to why they cannot fund travel for young people. The Association of Colleges will be using the new buses bill to call for better support for college students. These similarities prove politics changes slowly and the collective memory is short. It is a fair bet therefore that when the Queen, or her son, delivers their Speech in 2026, a different PM will be grappling with the same issues as his or her predecessors. Chris Walden is the Director of Public Affairs and Communications at the Association of Colleges.