In-tray: Nine issues for the new education secretary

8th January 2018 at 20:16
The new education secretary has a heavy in tray.
Damian Hinds will have to get to grips with issues the Department for Education is already consulting on

Justine Greening's replacement Damian Hinds will have to follow the priorities of 10 Downing Street and make a series of decisions on important issues as he settles into his new role as education secretary.

And while Brexit and the NHS have been at the centre of much of the political debate since the election, education is likely to move to centre stage in the weeks and months ahead.

A prime ministerial speech on school standards had been pencilled in for last month, but was knocked off the grid by Brexit negotiations. It is now expected to form part of a new year relaunch by Theresa May.

It means that the new education secretary is likely to find himself under closer watch from 10 Downing Street than Ms Greening was over the last six months.

Nine key issues

School-related issues in the ministerial in-tray include:

  • School funding: this was a key issue in last year's general election, and although Justine Greening found an extra £1.3 billion over two years, school leaders say this is not enough, and unions are determined to keep pushing the issue.
  • Teacher recruitment and retention: the other big concern facing schools today. The latest figures showed that applications for teacher training courses were down by a third. Justine Greening included measures to tackle this in her social mobility action plan, but a former advisor to Michael Gove said it did not go far enough. The sector will be looking for her successor to do more to tackle the issue.
  • Planned changes to sex and relationships educationthe DfE launched a consultation on this in December. Ms Greening pondered the issue for a long time before outlining her plans, because of the sensitivities involved. Will her successor continue her approach?
  • Free schools: this was the only major schools policy that Theresa May mentioned in her last conference speech, but was a lower priority for Justine Greening, who took £280 million from the programme's budget and refocused it on the most deprived third of the country. Ms Greening was accused of not having enough commitment to Tory school reforms. Will the new education secretary give free schools a second wind and reinvigorate the drive to create more academies?
  • Relations with the unions: this can be difficult for Conservative education secretaries to calibrate. Last week, Ms Greening was said to have "sided too strongly with the trade unions", and while Michael Gove won praise from his party for his more confrontational approach, David Cameron moved him when it became electorally toxic. How will the new secretary of state manage this relationship?
  • Improving social mobility: this was a key priority for both Theresa May and Justine Greening, but while the former saw it in terms of creating new grammar schools, the latter did not. Ms Greening published a detailed social mobility strategy last month, but Ms May's former chief of staff attacked it as "full of jargon but short on meaningful policies". Will the new education secretary change the plan?
  • Proposals to reform qualified teacher status were part of Justine Greening's plan to tackle the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. The consultation closes in March.
  • A consultation on November's Green Paper on mental health provision for children and young people, carried out jointly with the Department of Health.
  • Grammar schools: the prime minister's desire to change the law to allow new grammar schools was scuppered by the loss of her Commons majority, but could the new education secretary push for more of the existing grammar schools to expand, or set up annexes?


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