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Department for Education (DfE) reshuffle

Sweeping changes to the DfE team have seen all but one of the previous post holders leave their roles. The new team is as follows:

  • Nadhim Zahawi is the new Secretary of State for Education. He was previously Vaccines Minister and has worked in the DfE as the Minister for Children and Families during 2018/19 and was David Cameron’s Apprenticeship Adviser in 2015/16.
  • Robin Walker, previously Northern Ireland Minister, takes over as Minister for School Standards.
  • Alex Burghart comes in from the backbenches to take over as Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills.
  • Will Quince, previously DWP Minister, takes the place of Minister for Children and Families.
  • Michelle Donelan remains as Minister for Universities and will also now attend Cabinet.
  • Baroness Barran is the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education in the House of Lords.

The sector has high hopes that this new team will represent us with strength and determination. The next six weeks will test them as there is the Conservative Party Conference in early October and the Autumn Budget and Spending Review in late October. Both events will raise their profile and their plans for the remains of the current Parliamentary session.

For schools this may be a turning point. Nick Gibb was Schools minister for 7 years, by far the longest time a minister has served. He was known for driving the phonics agenda in schools as well as Early Learning Goals, the Early Career Framework, changes to NPQs and proposed changes to initial teacher training. These were (and still are) very important areas. The new team are unlikely to embark on any brand new work but could strip back the primary grammar, punctuation and spelling curriculum.

The new Secretary of State is a known supporter of Apprenticeships and skills agendas and so expectations are high that this support and enthusiasm will continue and grow. The current Skills and Post 16 Education bill and recent of review of level 3 qualifications are two very big tests coming up within the first 6 months of tenure. Add to those potential changes to HE admissions and the team will be kept very busy. FE and HE have been the focus of lots of recent policy work and the landscape is changing.

However, most immediate is how the team handle the impact of the pandemic going forward and this will be very much under the microscope. The last 18 months and two sets of national test windows have seen some major debate on methods of delivery, access to digital infrastructure and resources, and the future of assessment with an almost even split between changing the assessment approach and keeping the one in place. It is here that we may see the biggest changes and any movement towards a new assessment approach will need to be keenly watched.

The team will have had to hit the ground running and, at the moment, there appears to be no finishing line in the distance they can cross.