The reappointment of Nicky Morgan as education secretary sends out a clear message about the direction of education. We take a look at what this means.
The reappointment of Nicky Morgan as education secretary in prime minister David Cameron’s all-Conservative cabinet – the first time in 18 years that this has been possible – was a clear signal of intent in terms of the direction of education in the country. In short, it will be business as usual.
Ms Morgan, who replaced the divisive Michael Gove in 2014, is seen as a more credible force than her predecessor and less belligerent. In fact, she has gone out of her way to assert her keenness to work with the teaching profession and rebuild trust.
She will be in charge of boosting the number of free schools during the course of parliament – an additional 500 – protecting school funding on a per pupil basis, promoting a no-nonsense zero-tolerance approach for failing or “coasting” schools and making it so that working mums and dads of three to four-year-olds benefit from 30 hours of free childcare.
In short, Ms Morgan will be responsible for ensuring that the Conservatives deliver on the manifesto pledges, at the heart of which is the desire to give “all children the best start to life”. As the party outlined: “A good education is not a luxury; it should be a right for everyone.”
“We know what works in education: great teachers; brilliant leadership; rigour in the curriculum; discipline in the classroom; proper exams,” the manifesto stated. “We have been bold in reforming the education system to deliver these things, based upon simple, clear principles and values.
“We believe that parents and teachers should be empowered to run their schools independently. We believe that teaching is a highly skilled profession, and that we need to attract the best graduates into it. And we believe that there is no substitute for a rigorous academic curriculum to secure the best from every pupil.”
Ms Morgan has received some backing from the profession, with the Association of School and College Leaders welcoming the “much-needed consistency and stability” that her reappointment – as well as others – affords.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said earlier this month that there is real potential for the government to progress the education system and transform it from something good into something great.
“It is up to us in the teaching profession to step forward and create a system in which schools and colleges work together to drive continuous improvement, providing career-long professional learning and supporting one another in the development of teaching practice,” he continued.
During her speech at the ASCL’s annual conference in March, Ms Morgan said she was keen to do more to give the profession more freedom to revolutionise the education sector.
Of the association’s Blueprint for a Self-Improving System, she said while she appreciated and advocated a lot of the suggestions, one area she disagreed on was the ASCL’s desire to see curriculum development move away from ministerial control.
Demonstrating her willingness to stand her ground on matters that she has a strong opinion on, the education secretary said she believes that only democratically elected officials should have the power to make decisions about this sensitive area.
“That isn’t because I think I understand algebra any better than you do, or that Nick Gibb [schools minister] understands phonics any better than the teachers that teach it, although don’t tell him that,” she remarked.
“But because I think that parents should be able to hold us to account for the decisions we make about what their children are learning and what they’re not; and the surest way to make sure they can do that is at the ballot box.”
It is still early days and there’s a lot up in the air over how the Conservative government will push through plans given that it has total control over its agenda – no coalition partners to temper its policies – but a small majority. Bridges will certainly be built, but how strong the foundations are remains unclear.