Union leaders have raised concerns about speculation that Justine Greening could be sacked in an anticipated New Year cabinet reshuffle.
The education secretary is one of a number of ministers tipped to be removed as Theresa May plans to refresh her government.
The Guardian reported that one source said Ms Greening “had sided too strongly with the trade unions instead of embracing Tory reforms”.
After her appointment in July 2016, she was widely believed to be sceptical of the prime minister’s flagship plan for more grammar schools, despite publicly supporting the policy before it was ditched and scrapped plans to force all schools in underperforming areas to become academies.
Ms Greening has also refocused the Conservatives' flagship free schools policy onto areas where results are lowest.
Today teaching union leaders rejected suggestions that the secretary of state had sided with them. But they said that Ms Greening should stay, citing:
- The extra money she won for schools.
- Changes to primary assessment.
- More evidence-based policy.
- Her ability to "knock back right-wingers in Number 10".
- The need for stability.
- Ms Greening's recognition of the teacher recruitment challenge.
'You need to reach out'
Neil Carmichael, the former Conservative MP who chaired the Commons Education Select Committee for the first 11 months of Ms Greening’s time at the DfE, dismissed concerns that Ms Greening she was too close to the unions, saying: “I think education is one of those areas where you need to reach out and I think Justine has done that. To be effective it is not necessary to be unpopular.
“I think education does mean taking into account the views of stakeholders," he told Tes. "The mission must be to ensure that teachers are fully respected, but I don’t think Justine Greening has been kowtowing to the unions.”
He added that she had been “very effective at dealing with process issues”, such as the controversial national funding formula.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, told Tes that Ms Greening was “doing an effective and competent job within the restraints of Conservative education policy”, but dismissed the idea that she was close to the unions as “just nonsense”.
She singled out for praise the extra £1.3 billion for schools – although she said it was “not enough”, the focus on the early careers development of teachers, changes to primary assessment, and her “much stronger evidential basis for policy”.
She added: “What she has done, I think, is knock back some of the more mad right-wingers in Number 10 who still want to expand grammar schools, for example, even though it would clearly have been lost in the House of Commons.
“Just when positive things are starting to happen, to have her moved and the Department for Education in turmoil again would not be good for education.”
Calls for stability
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, echoed calls for a period of stability
“We were hoping for various reasons that we were not going to be locked into the cycle of people just learning the job and being moved on,” he said. “That has been so unhelpful for education.”
He said Ms Greening’s action on school funding and the national funding formula were “particularly courageous acts that demonstrated there was a funding issue” and welcomed her recognition of the challenge of teacher recruitment and retention.
And he raised concerns that if she was removed, “whacky wheezes” such as extending selective election could be resurrected.
Becky Francis, the director of the UCL Institute of Education in London, said she was “surprised” by the accusation that Ms Greening had sided too strongly with the unions.
She told Tes: “She has been recognised as a pragmatist and someone who cares about capacity in the education system and the development of the profession – and that has been exemplified by her recent prioritisation of career development for teachers and strengthening QTS.”
She added that it would be “politically insensitive” to remove Ms Greening immediately after she had launched the Social Mobility Action Plan, addressing an issue that Ms May has highlighted since first becoming prime minister.
The Department for Education said it did not comment on speculation and a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street declined to comment.