November 2012


  • Grade Expectations
    Comparable outcomes were intended to guarantee fairness for students from one year to the next. Now, in light of this year's GCSE English debacle, they appear to have become a way of fixing 'grade inflation'. Sue Kirkham looks at where and why the policy went awry. More
  • A move to the middle
    Concerned about flatlining results, Abbeyfield School in Wiltshire has switched to a curriculum for 11-14 year-olds built around 'big ideas', encouraging students to explore the links between subjects – and to their own lives. David Nicholson explains the thinking. More
  • Social network
    Is participation in social media a time-wasting distraction or a not-tobe- missed opportunity to engage with parents and communities? Susie Kearley reports. More
  • Growing potential
    Schools spend billions employing teaching assistants (TAs) with little evidence that they make a difference to attainment. Sue Tate and Ben O’Toole explore the challenges schools face in realising the potential of their support staff. More
  • All systems Gove...
    Following the government reshuffle, Daniel Cremin looks at some of the key personnel changes and their potential policy implications and explores whether the return of David Laws will put the brakes on Michael Gove's radicalism. More
Bookmark and Share

Following the government reshuffle, Daniel Cremin looks at some of the key personnel changes and their potential policy implications and explores whether the return of David Laws will put the brakes on Michael Gove's radicalism.

All systems Gove...

David Cameron’s first reshuff e was designed to breathe new life into the coalition and send a clear message that, in the arena of education and children’s policy, both he and Nick Clegg want to see a further increase in the scope of reform, not a retreat from radicalism.

In fact, Education Secretary Michael Gove's status as a radical reformer among centre-right commentators meant, paradoxically, there was never any realistic prospect of him being moved. Although there were calls for him to take on a strategy role as party chairman, Mr Cameron believed it essential to keep Mr Gove in place to safeguard existing school reforms and oversee major changes to both teacher training and examinations.

Key changes included a return to the backbenches for stalwart traditionalist Nick Gibb, as well as Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather and her Tory deputy as children's minister, Tim Loughton. John Hayes also departed from the joint BIS/DfE role he cherished in order to become energy minister. One of the biggest stories of the reshuffle was the return of David Laws as Minister of State (schools). The other new recruits, all Conservative backbenchers, are:

  • Elizabeth Truss, who, in becoming Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (education and childcare), gets her dream role of reforming the curriculum and qualifi cation system and implementing radical changes to childcare.
  • Matthew Hancock, who takes on a cross-departmental role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (skills) (jointly with the Department for Education and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) with responsibilities including apprenticeships, further education (FE) and the national careers service
  • Edward Timpson, a close friend of Mr Gove, who becomes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (children and families) with a portfolio including child protection, SEN and school sport

The retention of Lord Hill as a junior minister for schools provides some stability, as he continues to hold responsibility for overseeing the growth of sponsored and converter academies as well as free schools, UTCs and studio schools.

New kid on the block

Ms Truss, who grew up in a staunchly Labour household in Leeds and was a Liberal Democrat in her youth, is tipped by some commentators as a future Conservative leader.

Prior to entering Parliament, she worked from 2007 to 2009 as deputy director of the think-tank Reform, where she wrote several reports championing the growth of academies and the reform of the examination system to tackle 'mechanistic marking' and put university academics in charge of setting the content.

On the backbenches, she built a reputation among Conservatives as a policy entrepreneur, founding the Free Enterprise Group, a parliamentary grouping that signifi cantly infl uences George Osborne's thinking. In 2011 she wrote two policy pamphlets for the think-tank CentreForum that give a strong indication of policies she is likely to advocate within the DfE.

In Affordable Quality: New Approaches to Childcare, Ms Truss proposed measures to encourage local authorityoperated nurseries and children’s centres to gain academy-style status.

In Academic Rigour and Social Mobility, she argued that an Advanced Baccalaureate core of subjects should be created in Key Stage 5 league tables to encourage the take-up of more traditional A level qualifications. Elizabeth also called for increased funding for maths and science subjects, and believes maths should operate independently from the existing A level system and be taught as a compulsory subject to 18.

Damian Hinds, a Conservative MP on the education select committee, has said she is a stand-out performer: "Elizabeth gets a lot of respect in Parliament for her sheer depth of knowledge on areas like maths and science teaching. She is a real creative thinker, most notably with her recent work on childcare"

The presence of Matthew Hancock, a former chief of staff to George Osborne, means DfE has a well-connected advocate to help make a strong case for a healthy fi nancial settlement for education ahead of the next comprehensive spending review.

Edward Timpson, whose father is famous not only for running the family’s nationwide shoe repair business but fostering over 80 children, has been a key source of informal advice to Mr Gove on children’s policy since becoming an MP at the 2008 Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Until the reshuffl e, he was chair of all-party parliamentary groups for adoption and fostering and looked after children and care leavers.

Roving role for Laws

A buzzword in Westminster at present is 'proalition', which describes efforts to provide clear proof that both coalition parties can put aside political differences in order to advance big, transformative goals. In securing Mr Laws' appointment, Nick Clegg appears to have opted to make DfE the flagship of 'proalition in practice'.

Mr Laws, who served as Shadow Children, Schools and Families Secretary before the election, was a principle architect of the coalition agreement, but famously had to resign as Chief Secretary to the Treasury just days into the life of the government, when inappropriate expenses claims came to light.

Significantly, in addition to his DfE duties, he has been given a roving role as the Cabinet Offi ce Minister, and will also attend Cabinet. He is expected to play a key part in driving the cross-government social mobility strategy and shaping his party’s wider agenda. This led Labour to label Mr Laws a "part-time schools minister".

However, perhaps the biggest challenge for Mr Laws may be building bridges with sections of the education profession that feel marginalised by the government's approach.

Mr Laws acknowledged this in his first speech as education minister, saying, "All too often schools feel 'got at' by government. All too often, teachers feel that politicians do not like them, and do not respect the amount of work they do. Let me be clear. Every head, every teacher and every teaching assistant that is worth their salt is truly passionate about nurturing the talents of children. So let us try to avoid the 'them and us' mentality."

His return has evoked a mixed reaction among Liberal Democrats. Andrew Bridgwater, chair of the Liberal Democrat Education Association, said, "His views are very close to Gove's. I see this as a clear shift to the right. He believes in what I consider the myth of schools benefiting from freedom from local authorities, when in reality they have had freedom since the 1980s."

Peter Downes, a Lib Dem councillor and former ASCL/SHA president, is more positive: "He brings considerable intellectual ability to the post and will be a force for good in a difficult political context, where the main tenets of reform, driven by the Conservatives, are at odds with core Liberal Democrat policies."

Peas in a pod?

Although some media commentators have speculated that the appointment of Mr Laws represents a clipping of Mr Gove's wings, I'm given to understand that the education secretary is genuinely positive about having Mr Laws on board, as he rates his intellect, communication skills and non-tribal approach.

The two developed close links when they shadowed Ed Balls as children's secretary, and are on the same wavelength about many strategic aspects of education policy, although Mr Laws instinctively places more emphasis on collaboration than competition as a driver of improvement.

It is also widely believed that Mr Laws played a crucial role following this summer's public spat over alleged leaked proposals on 'a return to O levels', in crafting a compromise proposal to introduce single-tier English Baccalaureate Certifi cate qualifi cations with a longer implementation timescale than originally intended.

As for Mr Gove, he has made clear that he wants to stay for the long-term in a role he describes as "the best job in politics".

In the view of one well-connected Conservative source, Mr Gove is still hungry for new ideas, impatient with the pace of change and crucially is "determined not to water down his ambitions as a reformer".

  • Daniel Cremin specialises in education policy analysis. He has been working with ASCL over the last three years through his role at the public affairs company Bellenden.

DfE ministerial team roles and responsibilities

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education
The Secretary of State is responsible for all the department's policies

Lord Hill of Oareford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (schools)

  • Academies, free schools, UTCs, studio schools, independent schools
  • School organisation
  • Education Funding Agency

David Laws MP, Minister of State (schools)

  • Pupil Premium, raising attainment, narrowing the gap
  • Teachers
  • School improvement,accountability, inspection
  • Funding
  • Admissions
  • Raising the participation age, financial support for young people
  • Teaching Agency, National College
  • Child Poverty and Social Mobility Strategy
  • Ofsted

Edward Timpson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (children and families)

  • Adoption, fostering
  • and residential care home reform
  • Child protection
  • Special educational needs
  • Family law and justice
  • Children’s and young people's services
  • School sport
  • Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS)
  • Office of Children’s Commissioner

Elizabeth Truss MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State(education and childcare)

  • Childcare and early learning
  • Assessment, qualifications, curriculum reform
  • Behaviour, attendance
  • School food review
  • Reducing bureaucracy
  • Standards and
  • Testing Agency
  • Ofqual

Matthew Hancock MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (skills)

  • Apprenticeships
  • FE and 16-19
  • Careers