Gove is dealt a new hand in the cabinet reshuffle

7th September 2012 at 01:00
David Laws returns to prominence after 2010 expenses scandal

Prime Minister David Cameron used his first ministerial shake-up to completely overhaul the Department for Education this week. Out went schools minister Nick Gibb, who was the most high-profile casualty of the reshuffle, and in came David Laws, who was handed his first job in frontline politics since 2010.

Joining Mr Laws at the DfE is Liz Truss, the Conservative MP elected as part of the fresh intake in 2010, and Edward Timpson, another Conservative who recently led an inquiry into looked-after children. He takes over from Tim Loughton as junior children's minister. And following Mr Gibb out of Sanctuary Buildings is Sarah Teather, the young Liberal Democrat MP who just this week published draft legislation on changes to special educational needs provision.

But it is Mr Laws' appointment as schools minister and minister for the Cabinet Office that is the most eye-catching move by the prime minister. The former banker was the Lib Dems' education spokesperson before the general election and has an in-depth knowledge of the brief.

He was also one of the key players in negotiating the terms of the coalition agreement with the Conservatives back in 2010 and was appointed chief secretary to the Treasury in recognition of his economic acumen. He resigned from the post just 17 days later after he became embroiled in an expenses scandal.

Mr Laws has been given a roving brief but it is understood that he will have control over the pupil premium, while the rest of his portfolio will be schools focused.

It is widely expected that he and education secretary Michael Gove will enjoy a harmonious relationship, although potential flashpoints between the two could arise when it comes to the latter's plans to reform GCSEs and his unwillingness to introduce more localised accountability of academies and free schools - something Mr Laws has championed in the past.

Sources close to the education secretary, however, said that he is "very happy" with the new appointments.

"We're seeing it as a very positive move," the source said. "David Laws is a great reformer and both he and Michael Gove very much see eye to eye. And Liz Truss is one of the great performers of the new intake. She has been described as a one-person thinktank, so will be brimming with ideas."

Mr Gibb has lost an education brief he has occupied since 2005 while in opposition, and is understood to be very disappointed by the decision. His biggest achievement in office was the successful implementation of the Year 1 phonics check, which received a hostile reception from primary teachers.

Despite the unpopularity of some of his policies, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said Mr Gibb is a "sincere" politician. "I always liked Nick Gibb: he was a traditionalist and staunchly believed in the value of subject knowledge," Mr Hobby said. "We may not always have seen eye to eye - in fact, we rarely did - but he was always honest."

Upon assuming office, Sarah Teather was repeatedly described by the education secretary as his "number two" within the Department, but the MP became sidelined as Mr Gove pushed forward with his school reform agenda.

Her departure to the back benches means a ministerial position in the DfE is still to be filled. As TES went to press further changes were expected in the Department, with question marks placed over Lord Hill's position. An appointment from the Lords is expected in a bid to steer the forthcoming Children and Families Bill through the second chamber.

Notes of discord

David Laws on Michael Gove:

"Michael Gove has some pretty eccentric ideas, such as giving vocational qualifications no value at all in league tables."

TES webchat, 2010

"Too often, even the Conservatives seem only to want to replace one set of central diktats with another."

Speech to education union the ATL, 2010

"In Michael Gove's model, that is the education market. But we are not talking about petrol stations or sweet shops; we are talking about schools and, more importantly, children."

Speech to the ATL, 2010

"The Tory proposal to allow such [academy] schools to have no core national curriculum at all is half-baked and foolish."

Guardian interview, 2010.

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