It’s easy to understand why the venue was so full – there remains a massive appetite to find out exactly what the government is planning. Unfortunately, the debates themselves, although interesting on a theoretical level, remained largely uninformative when it comes to practical implementation.
Perhaps the best example of this continuing state of flux came from the National Audit Office, which kicked off proceedings by revealing the results of its study into the academies programme.
Enlightening as it was – and no doubt gratifying for ministers past and present, not to mention the private sector – the information being provided already felt somewhat outdated. The report explained that the academies programme to date had delivered some marked improvements.
But the report could only comment on the original – Labour created – academy programme, which it acknowledged is quite different to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s approach.
There were also some helpful comments from headteachers already involved in the new academies process. But it was also evident that most of these schools are already in pretty good shape, and don’t particularly need any help from the private sector to deliver new buildings or improved teaching. They just wanted a bit more freedom from the national curriculum and other similar constraints.
So once again, many people will have left the conference scratching their heads, wondering what the changes mean for them in practice.
At the heart of this confusion and uncertainty, of course, was the inability of anyone on the stage to give clear guidance over how much funding academies and free schools will be given in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
It remains the big unknown and the biggest stumbling block for progress at the moment.
Chancellor George Osborne needs to give some pretty clear guidelines when he publishes the review on 20 October. Because otherwise, this uncertainty will only continue, and could push the country towards a double-dip recession as businesses remain reluctant to invest in obscure and woolly policies.