Boris Johnson has faced criticism after it emerged that the single notable policy announcement in his conference speech was not new, and was one of three sections on education that failed to properly stand up to scrutiny.
In his speech in Manchester the prime minister said he was “announcing a levelling-up premium of up to £3,000 to send the best maths and science teachers to the places that need them most”. While billed as new, the policy was launched in 2019 but then phased out.
Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, said: “The premium announced today is a less generous recycling of an old policy that Boris Johnson’s government scrapped just a year ago.”
When asked about this on BBC Radio 4’s World at One, the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, did not reject the idea that the policy was a revived one.
“If we have policies that work, I’m a pragmatist when it comes to these things,” he said. “If something has worked then why not, when you have teacher shortages in core subjects, focused very much on particular parts of the country that really need them, focused very much on years 1 to 5, then let’s try and encourage those teachers to stay in the profession or join the profession.”
Elsewhere in the speech, Johnson hailed as an example of “unleashing potential” the achievements of Brampton Manor academy in east London, which despite its deprived location sends more children to Oxford or Cambridge than Eton does.
Johnson described it as “a new school that anyone could send their kids to”. This is correct in that it is a state school. However, the school’s sixth-form is highly selective, taking 300 students a year from about 3,000 applications. Johnson did not mention this.
In another education reference, Johnson took aim at Islington, the north London borough where he used to live, saying schools there “like kids to run races where nobody actually wins”.
This was another notable oversimplification. There has been a long-running debate over the idea of non-competitive school sports, particularly for younger children, for many years, based in part on the idea of instilling a love of physical activity in pupils without putting some off because they are less good at sports.
However, this has been widespread and there is no evidence of it being unique to, or even particular to, Islington.