Autumn Term 2016
The new Cabinet under Theresa May has eight female MPs in top jobs, which matches the record set by Tony Blair, with the key difference that this time the casting vote is in the hands of a female Prime Minister. So one point to the Tories. We now have the Home Office, Energy, Environment, Culture, Justice and International Development all run by women.
Much play has also been made of the fact that a far larger number of the current Cabinet were state educated – 71% to be precise, as opposed to 50% in David Cameron’s gang of 2015 . Apparently you have to go back to Clement Atlee’s Labour government of 1945 to match the current number of state-educated MPs in the Cabinet.
The new Education Secretary, Justine Greening, is part of the new wave, being female and having attended a non-selective comprehensive school. She has inherited a challenging task and will have to work very hard to keep all parties happy.
Firstly, the grammar school debate that has just exploded on to the scene masks the fact that the UK education system has been pulled in conflicting directions for years, without discernible improvement. Whatever the final decision regarding grammar schools, the Department of Education has noted that 570,000 new secondary school places will have to be created by 2025 just to meet the demands caused by the expanding population in the UK. That’s only nine years away.
In the meantime Greening will be presiding over changes to GCSEs and A levels, SATs for 11-year-olds, and the ongoing debate about schools becoming academies. For more on this see my piece in damesnet: ‘Educashun’ under ‘Issues’. In addition, the legacy left by Michael Gove during his time at the helm of the UK’s education contributed to a major downgrade of the status of teachers. They were left disappointed and demoralised, not the least because he seemed ready to ditch the idea of teachers having to be trained, apart from somehow ‘learning on the job’.
A glance at Ms Greening’s website tells us that she has been MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields since May 2005. Among other Cabinet posts, under the previous Cameron administration she was Secretary of State for International Development, where she notes having “put women and girls at the heart of the UK’s international development approach”. This included holding the first ever ‘Girl Summit’ in London to mobilise international work to combat FGM and early and forced marriage, with young people at the centre of this work.
With such a promising track record, in my view her departure from this post should be cause for some regret. Priti Patel, who has taken over this post under Theresa May, once declared that the Department for International Development (DFID) should be abolished, and that aid should be used as a tool to develop the UK’s business interests. I will be watching her activities in her new job with some interest.
But returning to Ms Greening, let us hope that the priorities she upheld at DFID are carried through to education. Ironically, as many studies tell us that girls are tending to outperform boys in the classroom, this will require yet more flexibility. Let’s hope she gets it right.