Neil was elected as Chair of the Education Select Committee in June 2015 in a ballot of MPs of all political parties. Select Committees were introduced in 1979 and have now become firmly established as powerful instruments for holding the government accountable and, increasingly, sources of ideas for change. Both of these activities will be pursued vigorously while Neil is chair of the Education Select Committee but a third activity – introducing new ways of operating – will also characterise its work.
One innovation is joint inquiries with other Select Committees in order to underline the value of holistic approaches to policy making. To this end, a new joint committee has been established between the Education Select Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee for a wide ranging investigation into the much discussed economic productivity gap between the UK and our competitors. Already this sub committee has completed an inquiry into careers guidance and is currently finishing an inquiry into apprenticeships. Ensuring that our young people receive the best skills, training and careers guidance is going to be vital to the UK making a success of it's decision to leave the European Union.
In its first year the Education Select Committee has already undertaken a number of substantive enquiries, including the role of Regional School Commissioners, Social Work Reform and the Mental health and well-being of looked after children. Another important part of the Committee's work is to hold Ministers and public officials to account for their decisions and regular hearings are held with the Secretary of State for Education and her Ministers, and the Chief Inspector of Schools amongst others.
Following Government proposals to overturn the existing ban on new grammar schools and extend selective education, the Education Committee held an ‘evidence check’ hearing with the Department for Education, academics and policy experts in November. The Education Committee’s one-off session aims to review the existing evidence for selective education and it's findings will be published before the end of the year.
The Committee is also conducting an inquiry into the impact of leaving the European Union ("Brexit") will have on Higher Education. There are fears that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will have a negative impact on higher education. Concerns range from being able to attract the brightest students from across Europe to making sure UK universities maintain their places among the world’s best.
The Education Committee is keen to hear from university leaders, academics, students and others, as we examine the opportunities for higher education post-Brexit and consider what the Government’s priorities should be for the sector going into the negotiations with the EU.
Other current inquiries are looking at the recruitment and retention of teachers and Multi Academy Trusts.
The work of the Education Select Committee will always be interesting, and, occasionally, controversial through being willing to contest assumptions and policies.