So fixed has the spotlight been on the Labour leadership contest in recent weeks, you could be forgiven for thinking there was almost nothing else going on. The glare of publicity surrounding the leadership candidates has been predictable given the stakes and the time of year. But while the focus might have been on Labour, a few Conservatives – Michael Gove chief amongst them – might have afforded themselves a moment of self-congratulation this morning.
Why, you ask? Because analysis conducted on Department for Education figures has concluded that state schools are now outperforming fee-paying private schools.
The analysis has determined that state schools are doing better in the much read (but ironically also much-maligned) school league tables. Both predictably and understandably, government sources have been quick to welcome the figures, claiming they are a demonstration of how reforms first introduced under Michael Gove are working. And such claims are being backed up by respected columnists such as Fraser Nelson, who has suggested the findings show how schools are flourishing without the heavy hand of state intervention.
Mr Gove will doubtless feel a sense of satisfaction. A committed but pugnacious Education Secretary, he was the architect of the Government’s education reforms, only to be done in by the so-called ‘blob’. His successor, Nicky Morgan, will also doubtless be pleased – both by the success of state schools, and for the opportunity for government and teachers to be singing from the same hymn sheet for once in praising schools. Rarely would this have been the case during Mr Gove’s tenure.
Private school leaders and representatives have of course challenged the findings, suggesting a direct comparison is impossible. They doubtless have a legitimate case, but the important thing is that much of the public will take the success story of state schools at face value. And this raises an important point in the context of the Conservatives’ electoral ambitions in 2020.
Since victory in May, the Conservatives have been able to report a string of good news stories. Much of this has focused around the economy. But evidence of improving standards in schools will only help the Government’s narrative that it is what is best for Britain. And that can only make Labour’s job tougher – regardless of who’s the leader.