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News | Published August 06 2019

Cabinet Review: Gavin Williamson

Following the recent appointment of Boris Johnson's cabinet, we have launched a series of articles to assess how each sector views their new Secretary of State. Our first instalment focusses on Gavin Williamson, the new Secretary of State for Education.

To gauge the opinion of the sector, we asked a series of questions to each representative. In this article, we spoke to Sharon Birch, the owner and manager of Footprints Learning for Life Nursery, Mike Morris, Director of GQA Qualifications Limited, and David Williams, Director of Impact.

1. Do you think Gavin Williamson is a good choice for Education Secretary?

Sharon Birch: "I think Gavin Williamson is an interesting choice. He is not someone I would have expected, given his previous roles, but if he comes to the post with an open mind, I think he may do some valuable work."

Mike Morris: "No – he is a poor choice for a minister with a poor track record in everything he’s touched so far. He has a very ambiguous voting record on issues such as LGBGT rights which is a key issue in the school sector at the moment.

"He was state school educated and has been a school governor so he might bring something to the post, although I’ve been a hospital patient but could never be a nurse"

David Williams: "As only the second Education Secretary to have been taught in a comprehensive school, we hope he will prove to be more insightful into the needs of our state education system than some of his more recent predecessors.

"His parliamentary background as Chief Whip suggests that he can a very effective political operator but his time at Defence is less encouraging. In the end, all Secretaries of State are judged on what they actually do and the Education Secretary has a full in-tray. We are cautiously hopeful."

He was state school educated and has been a school governor so he might bring something to the post, although I’ve been a hospital patient but could never be a nurse

2. What areas would you like him to focus on?

Sharon Birch: "I think Williamson should definitely focus on the early years sector. Early intervention is key to shortening attainment gaps and giving every child an equal opportunity. One size does not fit all and I hope that Gavin Williamson recognises that in his education policies."

Mike Morris: "Boris Johnson has said that he wants every parent to be guaranteed a superb education for their children. He could do worse than focus on delivering this.

"For me, and the industry sectors that I’m involved with, I would like to see the funding for further education colleges, and private providers, restored so that they can work within their local areas and support school leavers into good apprenticeships or provide an alternative route to vocational higher education routes.

"Critically we have lost the part-time day-release courses that not only underpinned apprenticeships but provided flexibility and developed transferable skills. The new T levels are not what employers want; rather they are a poor copy of an A level in a vocational context.

"Apprenticeship numbers are well below the government's own target of 3 million starts by 2020. This is a direct result of government policy to restrict the funded programmes to the disastrous Trailblazer initiative. A consequence of this is the dismantling of the sector bodies that updated and policed the national occupational standards. The invention of the IfA  has also skipped from one disaster to another and has not delivered anything of value.

"Even after 2 or 3 years of development, there is still no apprenticeship in the glass sector. I would like to see him abandon the IfA, T Levels and Trailblazers. It was an ideological experiment that has failed a generation of school leavers and held industry back."

David Williams: "Education spending is always a key political battleground and Boris Johnson has already talked about the need to ensure that "kids get a superb education wherever they are in the country." As a people business, we would like the Education Secretary to focus on the recruitment, training and retention of high quality teachers.

"No education system can deliver to children, families and the country without excellent teachers. The government’s own research illustrates the pressures that teachers are under and the negative impact on their wellbeing and wider health. Teachers continue to leave the profession while pupil numbers continue to grow creating pressure on pupil-teacher ratios. This trend needs to be reversed with more inspiring teacher training, less pressure from state involvement in the curriculum and better funding."

Early intervention is key to shortening attainment gaps and giving every child an equal opportunity. One size does not fit all and I hope that Gavin Williamson recognises that in his education policies.

3. What concerns you most about the sector?

Sharon Birch: "Funding for early years. I really appreciate the funding that has gone into early years provision but it's just not enough to meet rising costs. The hourly rate given to private providers is causing a huge deficit in budgets and many nurseries are closing. Funding needs to meet costs. It's not about profit, but about making ends meet, especially in the more deprived areas of the UK."

Mike Morris: "· A lack of recognition for vocational qualifications by government even though they are highly valued by employers.

· The teacher recruitment and retention crisis

· Colleges and providers going into administration.

· The on-going demise of further education and the “skills sector”

· Lack of support for occupational standards development.

· The misalignment and divergence of the four nations in terms of skills and qualifications. Employers span borders and want consistency."

David Williams: "As a business, we understand the need for regulation and legislation designed to create a level playing field for companies to compete within. For the education system, we suspect that there have been too many changes, too many policy shifts and too much short-termism.

"Our primary concern is that teachers, parents and pupils understand the policy direction and funding outlook for the sector in a way that they can get behind and support."

"Our primary concern is that teachers, parents and pupils understand the policy direction and funding outlook for the sector in a way that they can get behind and support."

4. What has the department done well recently?

Sharon Birch: "The focus and implementation of wellbeing and mental health in early years and schools, with practitioners and professionals recognising that importance of emotional literacy, not just curriculum subjects."

Mike Morris: "I can’t think of anything."

David Williams: "Damian Hinds did a quietly effective job at tackling some of the institutional overlaps by making Ofsted solely in charge of school accountability. Hinds' approach to easing the accountability pressures on schools and trusting teachers more to do their job was underreported at the time but was highly significant.

"This shift away from decades of increasingly centralised control on schools is something we welcome and hope is continued under Gavin Williamson."



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Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
@theparlreview
August 06 2019

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