It’s all change at the top again, as the DfE is expanded to take on universities and skills – a massive increase is scale and scope – reflected in a move of buildings too, from the half-empty Sanctuary buildings (at least last time I was there – all the desks had been pushed to the windows to make it seem fuller than it was!) to the Old Admiralty Building in Horse Guards Parade.
But to my mind, a bigger change is in the shape of the new gaffer: Justine Greening – our first truly comprehensively educated secretary of state at the DfE. I know her old school, Oakwood High, in Rotherham, well: it used to be a technical school – that is, a secondary modern, and was one the options I could have chosen at age 11.
We previously bemoaned the fact that education secretaries seem to have been appointed largely from private or grammar schools and they never seem to know much about schools before taking up post. Indeed one could say that of Morgan when she left the post, yesterday.
On the face of it, Greening’s CV has similarly little to commend her to the post of education secretary, but she made a good job of international development (her previous role), during which time the UK became the first G8 country to meet the UN official development assistance target of 0.7% of gross national income. She’s also championed the rights of girls to be educated globally.
She also has the role of minister for equalities and is (hurray) gay, which would have been tough in Rotherham, in the eighties (born 1969) and it’s easy to see why she didn’t come out until recently. Morgan, if you remember, her predecessor in the equalities post, had previously voted against equal marriage – so more cause for optimism about this appointment.
So, all to the good. Personally, I’m hoping for another Estelle Morris, who came to the post with a similar background and reputation, though from the other side of the house, though she sadly resigned owing to internal battles in the cabinet.
Typically, education secretaries remain in post for a little over two years, giving them enough chance to put a spanner in the works and then leave, without having to face the consequences (known as Faraging). Let’s hope that this new appointment, to a new, enlarged department, means that schools will be left alone to get on with doing what they know best, at least until the end of this parliament.