5 big problems for Boris Johnson's education ministers

School funding, teacher recruitment and relationships and sex education will all feature in ministers' bulging in-trays

Will Hazell

Whoever is in charge of education under new PM Boris Johnson will face several huge challenges

With new prime minister Boris Johnson entering Downing Street this afternoon, all eyes now turn to his Cabinet reshuffle.

We don’t yet know whether he will keep Damian Hinds in his brief as education secretary, who any replacement would be, or whether Nick Gibb and other ministers will stay in the Department for Education.

Quick read: DfE pushing for extra cash to fund teacher pay rise

Hinds: I want to stay and finish the job under new PM

Teacher pay: DfE agrees 2.75 per cent pay rise for all teachers

But what is clear is that the ministers he chooses to run education at Sanctuary Buildings will face a bulging in-tray. Here are some of the big issues that they will have to contend with.

School funding

As Tes reported yesterday, hopes that schools would receive a multi-billion-pound funding boost before Theresa May left Number 10 came to naught.

During the Conservative leadership campaign, Mr Johnson promised an extra £4.6 billion for schools by 2022-23. His team said this amount would keep pace with rising pupil numbers, and return per-pupil funding for schools to 2015 levels.

The new education secretary will have to nail down this funding from the Treasury and decide how it is allocated. Even if they do, heads don't believe it will be enough, and the commitment could still be derailed by the financial implications of a no-deal Brexit, with Mr Johnson promising to take Britain out of the EU “do or die” by 31 October.


While the entire school system is buckling under funding pressures, provision for special educational needs and disabilities has been highlighted as a particular area of concern. Academies minister Lord Agnew has said high-need is one of the areas he is most "worried" about. With demand for education, health and care plans (EHCPs) rising, the DfE will have to find a fix.

Teacher recruitment

Teacher shortages have not gone away – in fact, they were highlighted as a “key risk” to education in England in the DfE’s annual report yesterday. Workforce statistics published earlier this summer showed that one in three teachers leave within five years.

As the bulge in pupil numbers works its way through from primary schools into the secondary sector, the education secretary will have to find a way to stem the leakage, while boosting the numbers coming into the profession.

Clamping down on teacher workload – much promised but notoriously difficult to achieve – will be central to this. According to a major international survey, teachers in England work more hours than anywhere else in Europe.

Making teaching more attractive also brings us to the subject of pay. If there is a new education secretary, it looks like they will be presented with a fait accompliMr Hinds signed off a 2.75 per cent increase for teachers earlier this week. But a new education secretary would still have to deal with the fall-out – heads are warning that the decision not to fully fund the rise will result in redundancies, while the NEU teaching union has not ruled out strike action.

Relationships and sex education

Protests over relationships and sex education show no sign of abating. In fact, there has been a proliferation in the demonstrations, which have centred on teaching about LGBT families.

Some Tory politicians such as Michael Gove have said that the DfE should make it a requirement that primary schools should teach about LGBT relationships, to send a message that any protests should be aimed at the government and not individual schools. While Mr Johnson has often styled himself as a liberal Tory, and recently lent his support to the schools rocked by the protests, other Conservative politicians have appeared more equivocal.

The education secretary will have to decide whether to take a more prescriptive approach to the issue.

Primary assessment

The DfE is set to pilot a new Reception baseline test for four- and five-year-olds in September, before a rollout in 2020. But the government is likely to face continuing resistance to the policy.



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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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