Cabinet reshuffle: 'Greening's refusal to impose barmy policies on an exhausted profession cost her the job'

During her 18 months in the Cabinet, Justine Greening was successful in very difficult circumstances, writes teachers' leader Mary Bousted. How will new education secretary Damian Hinds deal with the pressing issues of teacher supply and funding?

Mary Bousted

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So farewell then, Justine Greening. Replaced as secretary of state for education by Damian Hinds. It is said that all political careers end in failure, but in Greening’s case, this is undeserved. It was not her fault that she was appointed just as the evidence of the negative consequences of her predecessor Michael Gove’s grand education experiment, and his successor Nicky Morgan’s laissez-faire attitude to education policymaking, started to hit the buffers.

Theresa May believed that Greening had to go because she was too close to the teacher unions. As a teacher union leader, I can safely say this was not the case. Justine Greening’s views on most educational issues were far from policies promoted by the unions. She was a free-school advocate and a strong proponent of a knowledge-based curriculum.

Where Greening fell foul of Theresa May was in her determination not to impose yet more barmy education policies on an exhausted and demoralised education profession, many dreamt up by the Number 10 policy unit. Her view, clearly expressed to her civil servants at the Department for Education, was that education policy could not be driven solely by ideology, but had to be based on at least some evidence that it had a chance of working (a novel position, I know, for a politician).

Greening was also the first secretary of state in my time as a trade union leader to commission across the DfE an impact assessment of the cumulative burden placed on schools by the plethora of government education policy pronouncements.

So, although we had many disagreements, Greening made as successful a fist of her role as was possible under very difficult circumstances.

The teacher supply crisis

Damian Hinds, newly appointed secretary of state, inherits all the problems faced by his predecessor. The most pressing, in a long list, is that of teacher supply. Initial teacher-training (ITT) figures, produced last week, show that ITT applications have dropped by a third this year. This dramatic fall is the stark culmination of five years of the government failing to meet its teacher recruitment targets.

And as graduates fail to find teaching attractive as a career choice, deterred by low pay and immense workload and pressure, so we are haemorrhaging teachers in early and mid-career. Less than half of England’s teachers last more than 10 years in the classroom, driven out by stress, pressure, and loss of agency and control of their working lives. 

This exodus from the profession causes the greatest problems in the communities who most need stability – those deprived communities where schools, and the teachers and school leaders who work in them, know their pupils and their parents, making connections with them, building trust and promoting education as a way of improving life chances. The fact is that taking on a school leader's role in a deprived, challenging school can too often be a professional death sentence, as a punitive accountability system fails to take into account just how difficult and exhausting it is to teach and lead these schools.

No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers. And no education system can succeed when it is inadequately funded. Damian Hinds will also inherit a school funding crisis, and this will only get worse in the next year as schools run out of reserves.  Expect to see schools reducing staffing, whilst coping with rising pupil numbers (a circle that Damian Hinds will find impossible to square).

I look forward to meeting the new secretary of state. His is the most important job in the government, and I wish him well if he, like his predecessor, is not to be condemned by the sins of his predecessors in office.

Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the National Education Union. She tweets @MaryBoustedNEU

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Mary Bousted

Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the National Education Union. She tweets @MaryBoustedNEU

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