Justine Greening: Eight big issues in the new education secretary's in-tray

14th July 2016 at 16:28
justine greening, dfe
We take a look at what the new education secretary's priorities might be in her first days in office

As the new education secretary, Justine Greening, gets her feet under the table at the Department for Education, we take a look at what will be waiting for her in her in-tray:

1. Teacher recruitment

Perhaps the most pressing issue for the incoming education secretary is the persistent problem with teacher recruitment. The Department for Education has consistently argued that the number of teachers coming into the profession has “never been higher”, but retention rates are a concern and heads across the country are finding it increasingly difficult to fill vacancies.

2. Teacher retention and workload

Schools struggling to fill vacancies is largely down to a record number of teachers leaving the profession. The main driver for this is the excessive workload teachers are being placed under. Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, came into office with strong pledges to tackle teacher workload, but efforts have dwindled as more pressing policies have got in the way. Ms Greening will need to look into the issue early on.

3. Placate EU teachers and students

The day-to-day political drama of the past two weeks has often clouded the main reason why the country is seeing so much upheaval – the decision to leave the EU. But Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has written to the prime minister urging her to give reassurances to school and college staff and students who are EU nationals that they will be able to remain in the country. Ms Greening will have to give similar reassurances, particularly following reports of racist abuse against pupils.

4. Decide on the national funding formula

Ms Greening must decide whether to release the final part of the consultation on the national funding formula within days if she is to avoid further delays to its implementation. But she will face a tough decision as schools in her constituency of Putney, Roehampton and Southfields could face cuts to their budgets of up to 3.7 per cent, according to estimates. If a general election is called then Ms Greening may have local difficulties campaigning, having put in place even deeper cuts for schools in her backyard.

5. Clear up the government’s stance on full-academisation

In what was her final public appearance as education secretary, Nicky Morgan launched a review of local authorities’ role in schools. Ms Greening must decide whether to press on with the government’s stance of “moving toward” a fully academised school system, or whether to allow high-performing schools to remain with their local authorities. Mounting evidence suggests that converting schools into an academy does not, in itself, boost performance.

6. Decide on primary assessment

This year’s primary assessments were played out against a backdrop of chaos. Test papers were published online months before key stage 1 assessments were taken, key stage 2 tests were judged to be too hard. The results were the worst seen in years and schools have been warned not to compare them with previous years. Ms Greening will be forced to get to grips with testing at primary level, and decide whether or not to usher in national tests at key stage 1.

7. Get up to speed with the FE agenda 

As well as the vast schools brief, Ms Greening will also be expected to get a handle on the FE sector. At the heart of this will be overseeing the implementation of the Skills Plan, which will bring about the biggest shake-up of post-16 education for a generation. She will also need to negotiate the thorny issue of area reviews and potential college mergers.

8. Appease universities

With the HE budget being rolled into the same department as schools, there will be concern among universities that their budgets could feel the squeeze in a bid to balance school finances. Similarly, there are fears among schools that a secretary of state covering the full length of the education spectrum could prioritise universities over schools. Ms Greening will have to reassure both sectors, which will require a fine balancing act.

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