There was plenty of chopping and changing at the heart of government when Prime Minister Boris Johnson selected his cabinet shortly before parliament broke for summer recess. It won’t sit again until 3rd September, so there are unlikely to be any major policy announcements directly affecting education or family life until at least the autumn.
However, as the reshuffle was so drastic, with many household-name MPs returning to the backbenches, and some new and returning faces now running government departments, we have a quick roundup for parents in England of the current state of play, and what the near future may have in store.
Gavin Williamson is the new Secretary of State for Education
Damian Hinds, who was Education Secretary from January 2018 until July 2019, leaves the position, handing over the reins of the Department for Education (DfE) to Gavin Williamson, the former Defence Secretary.
Before that, Williamson was Chief Whip, performing both major roles during Theresa May’s premiership. At 43 years of age, Williamson is one of the youngest members of Johnson’s cabinet. Williamson is state-educated, and is originally from Yorkshire (like Hinds’ predecessor Justine Greening). He has been the Member for South Staffordshire since May 2010.
Is anything staying the same?
There is some continuity at the DfE – phonics advocate Nick Gibb remains Schools Minister and Lord Agnew remains as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System.
What can we say about the immediate impact?
There was a lot of rapid change in the education sector in the early years of the Coalition government from 2010, when then-Education Secretary Michael Gove’s reforms brought in academisation, free schools and changes to assessment. Generally, new legislation is developed and brought in slowly. A new Education Secretary will inherit policies developed by their predecessor, and usually take some time before making any major changes. Williamson is new to education, so time will tell on how he intends to make his mark steering the DfE, though he has stated that education will be “at the very heart” of the new government. He is quoted as saying, "Education has always been a massive passion of mine, from the time I first became a school governor to serving on the education committee when I was a county councillor, to having a lot of family who work in education, it has always been something close to my heart."
Will there be more money for schools?
Education Secretaries since Justine Greening (who served in the role from July 2016 to January 2018) have pressed for a greater allocation of public spending, but the decision on how money raised by taxation is spent on public services, such as education, is ultimately made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (currently Sajid Javid). However, in his first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street, Boris Johnson said that his government would "level up per pupil funding in primary and secondary schools." There is yet to be an agreed figure for what will be added to the education budget, but it seems almost certain that greater allocation to at least partially address the school funding issues will be implemented soon. This assumes that no General Election is called, and the government does not collapse, shortly after Parliament reopens in September. In those events, extra funding for education would be likely to be part of the major parties’ manifesto pledges.
What does the Education Secretary do?
The minister is in charge of implementing government policy that drives the DfE. Under devolved powers, they are responsible solely for England. Their brief is wide, covering not just schools but areas including early years, adoption and child protection, teachers' pay as well as higher and further education. The DfE's current priorities are listed as:
- ensure our academic standards match and keep pace with key comparator nations
- strive to bring our technical education standards in line with leading international systems
- ensure that education builds character, resilience and well-being.
Kemi Badenoch – the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families
Although she does not attend cabinet, Kemi Badenoch’s position is an important junior ministerial post. She takes over from Nadhim Zahawi, who is now Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry. She joins colleagues at the Department for Education including Schools Minister Nick Gibb and Universities Minister Jo Johnson.
Her political career so far has seen the 39 year-old Badenoch elected MP for the Saffron Walden constituency in the 2017 general election with a large majority. She has previously served on the justice select committee and been the Conservative Party's Vice Chair for Candidates.
What does her role involve?
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families brief has many responsibilities, including (according to gov.uk):
- children’s social care including child protection, children in care, adoption, care leavers, social work, local authority performance and family law
- special educational needs including high needs funding
- education policy in response to the race disparity audit
- safeguarding in schools
- disadvantaged pupils – including pupil premium and pupil premium plus
- school sport, healthy pupils and school food, including free school meals
- early years policy including inspection, regulation and literacy and numeracy
- childcare policy, inspection and regulation
- delivery of 30 hours free childcare offer
- social mobility including opportunity areas
- DfE contribution to cross-government work to tackle rough sleeping.
It is likely that the issue of SEND funding, which has generated many headlines lately, will be something Badenoch will give attention to in the early days of her role.
We’ll keep you updated with any major education policy announcements in the near future.