The coalition agreement: public health and schools

Welcome to the seventeenth in a series of posts going through the full coalition agreement section by section. You can read the full Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition document here.

The public health section is very brief and rather anomalous as a section on its own, though given the length of the NHS section splitting this area off makes some sense. There is little of surprise in what there is of this section – public health is important (gosh), it should be improved (shock) and the government will be ambitious (crikey). Innovation is also good (well I never).

The details do however give a flavour of the general policy approach taken by the coalition across a wide range of areas. There is the commitment to give local communities greater power (in this case over public health budgets). There is a desire to use (financial) incentives to improve public services (in this case incentivising GPs to tackle public health problems). There is a niche commitment that reflects a welcome understanding of an often ignored topic (in this case support for talking therapies). And there is a thorny issue which it is promised will be investigated (in this case improving access to healthcare from people from the most disadvantaged areas).

Moving on to schools, the big topic – and the one many Liberal Democrats are uncomfortable with – is the proposal for ‘free schools’. Balanced against that is the clear commitment to the pupil premium policy long trumpeted by Nick Clegg.

There is an emphasis on improving the teaching profession and matching pay more to performance. As ever, regulation will be cut, vocational training will see its quality raised, efforts will be made to attract more teachers, there will be more performance information about educational provides (including past exam papers), more flexibility in the exam system and a reform of league tables “so that schools are able to focus on, and demonstrate, the progress of children of all abilities”.

In a rather unnoticed parallel to the proposal to give anonymity to rape suspects, here there is promise to, “give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils and take other measures to protect against false accusations”. In both areas, the argument is that false accusations can cause such harm, even if followed by an exoneration, that special measures should be taken. However, whilst this has generated much debate in the case of rape, the schooling provision has pretty much passed without comment. Of course, there’s no magic reason to assume that if a policy suits in one circumstance it suits in the other too. But it’s striking that arguments which could apply in both have largely been left unsaid in the educational case – e.g. “But by giving anonymity you’re slurring the accusers by assuming they’re often lying”.

Action is also promised to help schools tackle homophobic bullying (an issue the Liberal Democrats, and in particular Sarah Teather, have been very vocal on) and to “prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools, and remove the bias towards inclusion”.

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