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:
- Refereeing the ongoing spat between Mat CEOs and Ofsted over the new inspection framework.
- Whether there’s any more that can be done to stem the haemorrhaging of teachers from the profession.
- How to ensure more of the promised funding hike actually finds its way into the classroom when most of it has already been given away in the forthcoming teacher pay rise.
- Working out whether 100 per cent academisation could or should work and what such a system should look like in practice.
- Whether to throw some red meat to the Tory right by expanding selection or the 11-plus.
- Whether to let the independent sector off the hook or whether to force it to widen access to those who can’t afford its fees.
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.