Farewell, then, Justine Greening – one of the few education secretaries in recent years to enter and leave the Department for Education with a strong reputation intact. Her policy agenda, like her speeches, was solid if unspectacular – not surprising, given the government’s wafer-thin majority and the precarious state of Theresa May’s leadership in recent months.
Greening often seemed to be moving in the opposite direction to the prevailing winds propelling the government towards Brexit. She was educated in state schools and, of course, a sixth-form college. She initially found herself forced to support a grammar school agenda that she opposed. Then, after the PM’s calamitous misjudgement in calling an election, Greening’s stock somehow appeared to rise as her leader’s fell.
Most significantly for the FE sector, Greening made championing technical education (in the form of the T-level qualifications, in particular) a central tenet of her time in office and a key theme of most of her public speeches – an unprecedented move in recent years.
In November, I found myself packed into a sweltering room at the DfE for the first Skills Summit. The facilities may not have been entirely adequate, but the reason for the location was clear: Greening wanted to open the department’s doors to employers and FE providers, and ask for their help in developing the flagship post-16 qualifications. In establishing a review of level 4 and 5 technical education, she showed willingness to tackle the important, if not headline-grabbing, work necessary.
Her social mobility action plan was also a statement of intent. Its admission that the “hard work and dedication of teachers and college leaders has not been matched by successive governments who have overlooked further education” was as striking as it was welcome.
Greening may have been given a weak hand by political circumstances, but she played it with conviction and integrity. She will be missed by many in the FE sector. Damian Hinds has a lot to live up to.