The start of January saw a major reshuffle in parliament with Theresa May changing the ministers in her cabinet, as well as much controversy surrounding educational posts. Here’s a quick run-down of the key governmental appointments, replacements, and resignations:
Justine Greening, who had made social mobility the focus of her 18 months in office, resigned from the government after turning down a job as work and pensions secretary in the cabinet reshuffle. Ms Greening was the first comprehensive-educated Tory education secretary and her resignation comes less than a month after she launched the government’s social mobility strategy. The plan, Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential will deliver targeted action focusing £8000 million of government investment.
Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, said he was disappointed to see Ms Greening's departure, asserting, "she has tried hard to tackle the school funding crisis, without any help from the chancellor or prime minister.” Founder of the Local Schools Network, Melissa Benn, labelled Greening’s departure as “bad news for education”, stating “she was consulting on strengthening teacher qualifications and a new sex education curriculum, and only last week announced a modest budget to promote literacy programmes for disadvantaged students… the best any of us could hope for”.
Greening was replaced as education secretary by Damian Hinds. Hinds attended a Catholic grammar school before attending the University of Oxford and is former chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility. He tweeted that he is looking forward to “giving people the opportunities to make the most of their lives” and, in a statement on his new role, thanked the “hardworking and incredibly talented generation of teachers”.
Hinds has been tipped a future leader by Michael Gove and Nick Timothy. Timothy, May’s former chief-in-staff, said that “Hinds must be brave enough…to ensure universities are better, fees are lower and young people get the technical or academic education that suits them.”
In another education shake-up, Sam Gyimah has been made Higher Education Minster for England, replacing Jo Johnson. Johnson faced criticism for standing by Young, despite fellow MPs, academics and unions declaring him unfit for the role.
Dame Janet Beer, president of Universities UK, announced she looked forward to working with the former childcare minister "to develop policy that supports universities to maximise their positive impact on the economy, society and students".
The children and families minister Robert Goodwill has been sacked after just six months in the role. He was responsible for policy on safeguarding and free school meals funding, overseeing the 12 opportunity areas that were a flagship policy of Greening. Goodwill will be replaced by Nadhim Zahawi.
Nick Gibb, who continues as schools minister, tweeted that he is, “delighted to continue at the DfE”. Gibb thanked teachers and the Government’s reforms, stating “standards are rising: 154,000 more 6-year-olds on track in reading this year; 1.9 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools; and double or triple science GCSE entries up from 63% to 91%.”
After a controversial week and following a petition calling for his dismissal had gathered almost 220,000 signatures, right-wing journalist Toby Young has resigned his place on the newly-created Office for Students.
Young’s appointment caused thousands of complaints after critics highlighted a string of offensive tweets he posted about women, as well as controversial writing about working-class students. In a statement posted online, Young said about his resignation, “my appointment has become a distraction from its vital work of broadening access to higher education and defending academic freedom.”
Following initial shock and displeasure at the cabinet reshuffle – Twitter was awash with hashtags such as #ReshuffleShambles and #Mayhem – it is hoped that this new cabinet can deliver on its promises. New education secretary Hinds, who has promised to deliver “a modern country that is globally competitive and fit for the future” has certainly set the bar high.