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Welcome Justine Greening – please take care with English education!

Ian Menter

So farewell, Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove. Welcome Justine Greening, our third Conservative English Secretary of State for Education since 2010. This is beginning to look a bit like the musical chairs at Sanctuary Buildings that were played out during the later years of New Labour!

But there is always hope, when we have a new minister in charge, that greater sense will prevail. Others have already written about the significance of having an education secretary who herself attended a state funded comprehensive secondary school.

And others have already written about particular areas of education policy, for example in The Conversation

Ms Greening’s new wider brief – (including further and higher education as well as skills and apprenticeships, and of course ‘Equalities’) may make her attention to schools rather shallow and it may be that the Schools Minister continues to be the key player in this area, whether it be Nick Gibb or not – we await announcements about Greening’s team. Certainly while Gibb has been in this post we have seen very little regard to research evidence in education and a deep commitment to quick fixes – the latest being the importation of ‘Shanghai-style’ mathematics teaching for half of the primary schools in England.

However, what we need the new Secretary of State to do is to:

  • take teachers seriously – their work is crucial to the provision of good quality education and they are not feeling supported by Government in England;
  • take educational research seriously – make sure work commissioned by the DfE is of the highest quality and draws on a wide range of methodologies; stop looking for quick-fix, what-works solutions – education is too complex and too important for that;
  • look at what other jurisdictions in the UK are doing to improve their education provision – not to copy them but to understand how they work with the wider community, including teachers and researchers, to develop policy that is soundly based.

Of course it would help a great deal if we could have some clear alternatives set out by the official opposition. If three Secretaries of State over 6 years is looking a bit unstable, then three shadow Secretaries of State over three weeks looks even more precarious! While wishing well to the new postholder, Angela Rayner, it is a shame that neither Lucy Powell who lasted a few months, nor her successor, Pat Glass, who lasted but a few days, got anything like a grip on education policy.

In relation to schools in England, we need both leading political parties to look seriously and urgently at:

  • teachers and their education,
  • assessment,
  • effective school governance and management and
  • local accountability and democracy in schooling.

I am sure many BERA members would be only too willing to play a part in providing evidence to help in the development of a more secure base for the development of education policy in the months and years ahead.

If Theresa May and Justine Greening are serious about their inclusive agenda and their commitment to consider all of us, they could start by looking at ‘A Fair and Equal Education, the booklet published by BERA in the run-up to the last General Election.