Gavin Williamson to stay on as education secretary

NEU union says 'the jury is still out' on Williamson but predicts academies and accountability agenda will continue

Amy Gibbons

Gavin Williamson retains his role as education secretary

Gavin Williamson is to remain as education secretary following a major Cabinet reshuffle this morning.

Mr Williamson, who has been in the job since July 2019, survived changes in Cabinet that involved several prominent members being sacked by the prime minister, including business secretary Andrea Leadsom and environment secretary Theresa Villiers.

The only change for the Department for Education so far has been the loss of Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, who announced earlier today on social media that he would be leaving his post.

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Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said "the jury is really out" on Mr Williamson's record as education secretary.

"He's barely begun," she said. "He's talked in typical Tory terms about free schools and academies, and made some statements which he can't substantiate about their performance, but we don't know how he's going to be able to manage the agenda within the DfE.

"He's set himself a really ambitious target to be better than Germany about vocational education within 10 years. That's a fantastic ambition – sky high – so the jury really is out. How's he going to achieve it?"

Ofsted row 'a headache for Williamson'

She added that – while things are likely to remain stable at the DfE – the row over Ofsted's new inspection framework will continue to be a "headache" for the government.

She said: "I think we can see that what's going to go forward generally is a continuation of the current direction of travel – which is more schools joining MATs [multi-academy trusts], a continuation of a knowledge-rich curriculum, a continuation of high-stakes exams, and largely a continuation of the current accountability framework – although that is being challenged, and I think that will be a headache for the government.

"I don't think the row about Ofsted is going to go away, and I know that must be causing them a headache. I can't imagine that isn't a clear and present concern for ministers."

Dr Bousted said she thinks it is unlikely that there will be any kind of "radical revolution" at the DfE in the months to come.

"I don't think they're going to go for another 'Nicky Morgan push' to convert every school to an academy by law, because they haven't got enough sponsors," she said. "I think they are just going to continue with the current direction."

She added: "I do think where they'll get into problems is that Boris Johnson on the steps of Downing Street said, 'We're going to toughen up Ofsted and introduce three-day inspections and trial no-notice inspections,' and I think with the current state of play that is going to be a difficulty.

"I do think that there is a growing appetite with the school leaders, and within the system, to say 'we can't carry on with this'. And I think that is going to be one of the difficulties they are going to face."

In his time as education secretary, Mr Williamson has announced a rise of £6,000 in starting salaries for new teachers, in a bid to make the profession more attractive to graduates.

He has also called for more free schools to be opened in the Midlands and the North of England and vowed to “super-charge further education” over the next decade.

Dr Bousted added: "The question I have now is, what will he do next? Obviously raising the starting salaries is great for newly qualified teachers, but if that's at the cost of a catch-up for more experienced teachers then we have a problem. Because teachers are leaving the profession at all stages now – it's not just at the beginning.

"Unfortunately, the record with free schools is that there are far too many of them which have not succeeded, or where there have been irregularities in the use of public money. 

"Just saying we want more free schools because they are a good thing is not going to either guarantee that such schools will be built, or that they will be good things."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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