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7 Observations Regarding The New Education Secretary, Justine Greening

As Nicky Morgan bows out after two years at the helm of the DfE, what do we know about her successor?

  • 7 Observations Regarding The New Education Secretary, Justine Greening

As of today, the country has a new Secretary of State for Education in former International Development Minister and MP for Putney, Justine Greening.

She replaces Nicky Morgan, who now – at least the time of writing – appears bound for the Conservative backbenches, having served in the role for just under two years.

As others have observed, views of the Morgan era are broadly mixed, with the lasting impact of her tenure likely to be the rapid expansion of academies programme, to the point where academies now make up nearly two thirds of all secondaries and almost a fifth of all primaries.

She will also be remembered for coming up against some major setbacks, the most notable being her announcement and subsequent withdrawal of plans to legally force all schools in England to become academies.

Many will readily call to mind the image of her calling on the teaching profession to be ‘more positive’ in the face of heckling from NASUWT Conference delegates. They’ll perhaps also remember her for squaring up against the Education Committee towards the end of her time as Education Secretary, when she pressed for Amanda Spielman to be appointed as Ofsted’s Chief Inspector over the Committee’s objections.

If anything distils Morgan’s vision and intention for education in England, it’s the White Paper in which the ‘forced academies’ proposal was first mooted. It set out a raft of other policy announcements and priorities over the coming years, from a new national funding formula to league tables for multi-academy trusts – though how much of that will now be carried through remains to be seen, given the post-Brexit upset and complete overhaul of government personnel we’ve seen since the White Paper was published.

Looking ahead, then, what could we expect from Education Secretary Justine Greening? Here’s some of what we know so far…

1. She doesn’t deviate much from the party line…

If her voting record at TheyWorkForYou is anything to go by, she’s either staunchly loyal to the government of the day, or fully on board with the aims of the academies programme and increasing university tuition fees.

It’s worth noting that the latter will now come within her direct remit, with the DfE taking on responsibility for higher and further education, plus skills and apprenticeships, following some restructuring of Whitehall on the part of Prime Minister Theresa May…

2. She doesn’t hold with the view that schools are ‘joyless exam factories’

Appearing on the BBC’s Question Time in November last year, she seemed to profess support for progress measures and baseline assessment systems that involved testing children at the age of seven. One doesn’t generally expect Ministers appearing on the programme to decry official government policy – but maybe her eyes might give us a clue as to whether she agrees with the idea in principle?

After all, it’s now up to her as to whether schools are exam factories or not… (jump to 9.37)

3. She publicly announced that she was gay on the day of this year’s Pride parade

Following a slyly-worded tweet alluding to her status as a ‘remainer’ in the Great Brexit War, she became the first openly gay female to serve as a Cabinet Minister.

4. She’s comprehensively educated

She’s the first Education Minister to have attended a state secondary school, then Oakwood Comprehensive (now High School) in Rotherham,

5. The steel workers’ and miners’ strikes of the 80s inspired her to study economics

In a plain-spoken 2013 interview with The Guardian, Greening recalled asking her father, who worked in the steel industry, why people were going on strike: “He said: ‘It is because everybody thinks they are going to lose their job.’ I asked why and he said: ‘Because we are not making any money.’ I asked why again, and he said, ‘Because nobody wants to buy what we make.’

“It was my first economics lesson. What it taught me was that if people are going to have jobs that are sustainable, they have got to be real jobs in companies that are profitable at the end of the day.”

After a first job working at Morrisons (which became something of a media talking point a couple of years ago), she went on to work as an accountant until being elected as MP for Putney in 2005.

6. She knows the business of government

An experienced Parliamentarian, she held positions in David Cameron’s shadow cabinet (first opposite the Treasury, then Department for Communities and Local Government), and served as Secretary of State for Transport between October 2011 and September 2011. She’s also spent time on Work and Pensions Committee and the Public Accounts Committee.

7. Education was a big focus of her stint in the Department for International Development

One of Greening’s final public engagements as International Development Secretary was addressing at a Girls Education Forum event hosted by the DfD and the organisations Global Citizen and CHIME FOR CHANGE, in support of the UN’s Global Goal of ensuring inclusive and quality education for all.

In May this year, she visited Hampstead School to talk to pupils about her then upcoming appearance at the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, alongside actor du jour and UN Ambassador, Tom Hiddleston.

Then there’s the speech she gave last year at Mulberry School for Girls when welcoming First Lady Michelle Obama on a visit to the UK to promote her Let Girls Learn initiative. In it, Greening touched on what her own education had given her:

“I never thought when I was growing up in Rotherham and attending my local comprehensive school, that I would find one day find myself the Secretary of State for International Development. I got into politics because I believe that – wherever they’re from – it’s people who can change things for the better – for themselves, for their country, for the whole world.

“But to do that you need an education. I wouldn’t be here talking to you today as the Secretary of State for International Development, if I’d never had the chance to go to school and learn.”

Main image via Flickr user DFID - UK Department for International Development

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