Change on the horizon or is the grass still Greening?
Our Policy and Research Executive Dan Baynes blogs about what the reshuffle means for education policy.
It’s happened again. Just one month after an Education Secretary had set out her stall for education policy and made her impression on the teaching community, after 544 days in office, we’re back to square one.
Last week’s reshuffle saw the resignation of Justine Greening. There is every likelihood that her tenure will be characterised by internal departmental struggles on extending grammar schools and increasing school funding but also a welcome pause in changes to primary assessment and an incremental, outcome focused approach to policy-making which diverged from her more ideological predecessors.
At times the Department for Education under Greening’s leadership did conjure a “government by consultation” image (a total of 64 from July 2016). But it has to be acknowledged that Greening recognised the importance of making policy decisions in harmony with the teaching unions such as on the future of qualified teacher status and career progression. The stability and focus on disadvantaged areas she brought to the Department will be missed.
The question now arises – what of her legacy will the new incumbent, Damian Hinds, follow and what is likely to change?
To learn more about the new minister, see our profile.
Hinds is regarded as hot property within the Conservative Party. Michael Gove has hinted that he could be a future leadership contender and colleagues regard him as a “great speaker.”
Interestingly, Hinds also has experience in educational policy. He was a member of the Education Select Committee during the intense period of Gove’s reforms between 2010-2012, and as Chair of the APPG for Social Mobility, he co-authored the “7 key truths about social mobility” which firmly stated that “teacher quality is the #1 factor in educational outcome.”
7 Key Truths about Social Mobility is remarkably similar in tone to Greening’s Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, otherwise known as the “social mobility plan”, which included her “four ambitions”, covering the key life stages of an education. It included “boosting access to high quality early language and literacy, both in the classroom and at home, ensuring more disadvantaged children leave school having mastered the basics of literacy that many take for granted.”
DYT blogged about where SEND fits into the social mobility agenda here.
Hinds will align with much in this policy paper, in a blog in 2013 titled ‘Social mobility – when narrowing the gap, the earlier you start the better’, he stressed the importance of catch-up reading, highlighting Save the Children’s Born to Read volunteer reading help scheme to help children who are falling behind in their reading at school.
Elsewhere for Hinds, the major issue aside from funding is improving teacher recruitment and retention. A 30% drop off in applications for teaching jobs this year and missed targets over the past five years highlights just how bad a situation we are in. Greening had begun the process to address this problem, looking at how to reduce teacher workload, support newly qualified teachers and career routes for teachers.
Hinds, writing in 2014 stated that “no education system can be better than its teachers.” He is a supporter of the work of Teach First and will no doubt look to spread their work into the Opportunity Areas and beyond, but I think we can expect him to build on the element of Greening’s work that supports those entering the profession via the traditional route.
So, social mobility clearly remains the dogma that drives the Department for Education, however, Hinds also brings the potential for policy divergence away from Justine Greening.
Back in June the government quietly side-lined its proposals in the Schools that Work for Everyone green paper (alas, we still await an official response to the consultation – see our submission here). While Greening infuriated the Tory right with her intermittent support of lifting the ban on grammar schools, Hinds’ appointment has been actively welcomed by the selective education lobby. He has written that to “nurture talent” we should promote “unashamedly academically elite state schools.”
Likewise, Hinds supports scrapping the admissions rule that requires new faith schools to admit at least 50% of their pupils from other faiths and the 2017 Conservative manifesto included a pledge to get rid of the cap. Whereas this was not a priority for Greening, we should expect that, as a catholic grammar school boy, Hinds will be dusting down the green paper and preparing to push through the changes if the Conservative party strengthens its position.
Clearly, Hinds is Downing Street’s man. Under his leadership, I expect to see the Department making a much more robust defence of the government’s record on assessment reform and school funding. Greening was actively lobbying the Treasury for more funds for schools and had listened to teacher concerns on reforms to SATs; don’t be surprised if Hinds attempts to deprioritise these issues.
Where does it leave SEND policy?
SEND was never really on the radar of Justine Greening until her last few months; in her speech to launch the social mobility plan she committed to a new “targeted approach for…Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. It’s not acceptable that these children’s life chances are so much worse than their peers – they deserve a fair chance, like everyone else.” This was a welcome sign that the Department’s focus was shifting, however, with change in the air, questions must be asked about the future of this plan.
Hinds has written five written questions on SEND in the past, which shows that the issue has been on his radar at least. He also said that he hoped “better recognition of SEND in schools” would be the positive impact of the Children and Families Act. But the fact that the likely new Minister for SEND – Nadhim Zahawi – is unpaid is not a good sign for how much of a priority the issue will be in the Department.
We hope that Hinds will view the outcomes of 1.2 million children with SEND in our schools as a crucial part of his social mobility mission.
Hinds shares Greening’s core vision of putting social mobility at the heart of the education agenda. The “action plan” revealed in December is likely to remain relevant to the Department’s focus in the coming months. However, there will be a swift return to more “traditional” Conservative policies that will appeal to the party’s heartlands.
The period of stability ushered in by Greening may be about to take an explosive turn.