Whatever happens in reshuffle, DfE's problems remain

Whatever the fate of the education ministerial team in next week's cabinet reshuffle, Whitehall is going to have to wrestle with a draft of big policy challenges

Williamson and Gibb

As feverish speculation grows around next week’s long-trailed cabinet reshuffle, thoughts turn to what impact the so-called Valentine’s Day Massacre might have on education policy and schools.

Briefed for weeks and weeks, pretty much since before Boris Johnson’s landslide victory in December, at times it has seemed like it was less reshuffle, and more a (Dominic Cummings-inspired) overhaul of the purpose of government.

A wholesale revolution no longer seems as likely as it did before Christmas. And, similarly, while most Westminster watchers had expected Gavin Williamson’s tenure at the Department for Education (DfE) to be brought to an abrupt end as part of this restructure, the smart money now rests with him keeping his job. The same goes for longstanding schools minster Nick Gibb.

The only big change could come in the form of the departure of the other high-profile DfE minister Lord Agnew, who is rumoured to be off to pastures new.

All of which means Messrs Williamson, Gibb and whoever replaces Agnew will have to turn their attention to a growing list of education policy challenges and political questions piling up in the Santuary Buildings in-tray.

In no particular order, these include:

It is not, however, as if Williamson and his ministerial team will not be lacking in input from other Whitehall quarters as they wrestle with some of these intractable issues.

As I have written before there is a powerful Govian clique with a long legacy in education that has formed around Downing Street and Michael Gove’s former chief of staff, the now-famous Dominic Cummings, and they can expect to start flexing their muscles in the weeks ahead.

Quite how they will respond to the set of challenges emerging from the school sector is yet to be seen. But there could be fireworks.

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