School heads condemn ‘musical chairs’ nature of Education Secretary appointments

·3 min read

Headteachers have responded to the “musical chairs” nature of Education Secretary appointments by stating that schools inspectorate Ofsted would take a “dim view” of a similar level of leadership change.

James Cleverly has become the third Education Secretary within a week, following Nadhim Zahawi’s move to the Treasury and Michelle Donelan’s resignation from the role less than 36 hours after accepting it.

In a statement, Mr Cleverly said: “As someone whose grandfather was a teacher and whose children are currently in the education system, I am incredibly passionate about education and proud to be appointed secretary of state.”

He added that from childcare and the upcoming GCSE and A-level results, to the schools white paper and T-levels, there was a “huge amount of work to do”.

“I look forward to engaging with our brilliant nurseries, social workers, schools, colleges, universities and all the staff working across these sectors to realise people’s potential – whatever their backgrounds or wherever they come from.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said he wishes Mr Cleverly “every success”, but added he hopes there will soon be “the clarity of a long-term secretary of state who can set out a clear plan that deals with the issues, and then stays long enough to see that plan through”.

He added: “I cannot help but reflect that Mr Cleverly is the 8th secretary of state for education since 2010 and the fourth since the last election.

“Education is far too important to be subjected to such damaging levels of instability. Ofsted would take a very dim view of that level of leadership change in a school.

“The temporary nature of this caretaker Cabinet will merely compound the uncertainty. This is simply not good enough. Children and young people deserve better.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said these are “clearly unusual times” and the fact there is a new Education Secretary within days of Ms Donelan’s appointment has to be seen in that context.

He said: “It is frustrating that important Government roles currently seem akin to political musical chairs.

“Nevertheless, we welcome James Cleverly to the post and wish him well.

Nadhim Zahawi and Michelle Donelan
Nadhim Zahawi was replaced as Education Secretary by Michelle Donelan, before she resigned less than two days later (PA)

“It is of paramount importance that there is political stability going forward given the fact that there are several crucial issues facing the education sector, including the teachers’ pay award, exam results, teacher shortages and severe funding pressures exacerbated by soaring energy costs.”

James Bowen, policy director of the NAHT heads’ union, wrote on social media: “Just to sum up the madness, the [Number 10] Twitter feed has two different people being announced as SoS for education within two tweets of each other.

“Whilst this is all strangely entertaining, my goodness our children, teachers and school leaders deserve so much better than this.”

The rapid changes in the Department for Education, with just Mr Cleverly and Baroness Barran remaining following a swathe of resignations by junior ministers, leaves plenty of unfinished business, including the passage of the Schools Bill in its report stage, decisions on teacher pay, and the final outcome for the special educational needs Green Paper.

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