Justine Greening, the new Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, has a difficult road ahead of her — she has inherited the position of secretary of education at a time that is widely regarded as a teachers’ crisis by the profession’s advocacy groups. This month, teachers took strike action to highlight problems they feel weren’t being addressed by Greening’s predecessor, Nicky Morgan.
According to The Independent’s Rachael Pells, Nicky Morgan has left a mixed legacy, having had a turbulent relationship with teachers’ unions. She has been praised, however, for her attempts at tackling funding inequalities in schools, as well as for her role in developing a national funding formula based on the individual needs of schools and pupils.
Morgan has expressed her disappointment at not being able to continue in her role, whilst congratulating Greening and describing her as someone who is:
“… committed to excellence in education, equalities and [who] did great work for women at DIFID.”
However, one of Greenings’ most urgent issues is the fractured relationship between education ministers and teaching unions that was a recurring theme of Morgan’s time as Education Secretary.
As reported by the BBC, the Association of School and College Leaders has said that the new Education Secretary would face the “stark reality” of schools dealing with “real-terms funding cuts and a teacher recruitment crisis.”
Before being replaced by Greening, several teaching groups and campaigners had called on Morgan to resign. A Change.org petition which attracted thousands of signatures asked the MP to apologise for “failing” a generation of schoolchildren. Meanwhile, Dr. Mary Bousted, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, reflected in April on the climate under which Greening has taken over from Morgan:
“I can think of no time where teachers, lecturers and school leaders have felt less involved, less consulted and less able to exercise their professional judgement than now. Education ministers… have succeeded in alienating the profession, disempowering teachers and driving them away from teaching.”
Kevin Courtney, leader of the National Union of Teachers, has reiterated that Ms. Greening will have to face the teacher recruitment crisis, the problem of excessive working hours, and the lack of school funding.
Recent changes to the national curriculum, which have been met with derision, will also have to be addressed, according to education leaders. Dr. Bousted has described recent changes, such as baseline testing for 4 year olds and grammar focused Key stage 2 writing assessments, as “nonsense” and a “farce,” adding that the changes were designed by “people who know nothing of how to promote enjoyment of, and development in, writing abilities.” Courtney mirrored this perspective, saying that, “testing and assessment is in complete disarray.”
Meanwhile, Nicky Morgan’s controversial academies programme, which she inherited from her predecessor Michael Gove, was also addressed by Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers. Hobby warned Greening that the “government has not won the argument on academies” and that the best schools should be allowed to remain part of their local authority if they so choose.
Greening’s responsibilities in her new role will also be greater than those of Morgan, as the Department for Education is set to take over responsibility for FE, skills and higher education. Number 10 released the following comments in a press statement:
“Bringing these responsibilities together will mean that the government can take a comprehensive, end-to-end view of skills and education, supporting people from early years through to postgraduate study and work.”
Justine Greening, who has said she is “looking forward to getting on with the job,” is a pro-Remain MP who is amongst the small number of education secretaries to have attended a non-selective state school. She is also the first openly gay female Cabinet minister, having announced on Twitter last month that she is in a same-sex relationship. She has worked to end genital mutilation and forced marriage as part of her efforts to improve the lives of women and girls worldwide. Her other humanitarian projects include leading the UK’s efforts to combat Ebola in Sierra Leone.