Why did Greening have to go?
Several theories are in circulation about why Justine Greening had to go as Education Secretary.
Firstly,she was not loyally carrying out the wishes of the Prime Minister. More than this, she was delaying and obstructing. The Prime Ministers wishes can pretty much be summed up as the proposals in the pre-election education Green Paper drafted by her former adviser Nick Timothy.
And its also known that Greening, along with Jo Johnson ,were not entirely in agreement with May on her approach to tuition fees. Given the joy expressed by Nick Timothy in the Daily Telegraph at Greenings departure there seems to be some mileage in this. Timothy has urged Damian Hinds, the new education secretary, to be “brave enough” to cut tuition fees.
Greening was not radical enough, the argument goes, in pursuing the structural reforms — that is more academies, free schools , faith schools and of course grammar school expansion . Instead, she wanted to see an unrelenting focus on the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils. So not so much the other group, favoured by May, those who are just about managing to get by. So Greening realigned DFE Policy to focus on improving social mobility. May is also keen on social mobility, of course, but has a rather different approach to achieving it.
It was something of an open secret that Greening was uncomfortable with the structural agenda and increasing selection in the state system. This was hardly surprising . The response to the Green Paper was underwhelming. Experts lined up to rubbish its proposals with a coalition of education professionals, across the political spectrum, saying, that the proposals did nothing at all to advance the government’s own agenda , providing more good school places. Significantly, we are still awaiting the government’s response to the public consultation on the Green Paper.
On grammar schools, analysis is pretty clear . Though grammars, which by and large are good schools, might deliver a small exam grade benefit to those who gain entry, this is at a significant price to those, often poorer children, who do not pass the entry test. More grammar schools are therefore likely, if anything, to worsen the country’s social mobility problem. So to invest time, scarce resources and political capital in this area really doesn’t make a lot of sense, and rides a coach and horses through the evidence base.
Its true that the initial academies scheme saw significant improvements in student outcomes. But the most recent expansion of the academies programme has shown mixed results . Indeed LSE research points to little, or no, significant attainment effects .Nor have academies significantly narrowed the achievement gap, certainly at secondary level. Greening understood this.
As far as tuition fees go Greening and Johnson blocked an attempt by the prime minister to overhaul them — cutting fees and possibly the interest rate charged to students. They had argued that although the system was sound in principle, sharing the financial investment between the state and the student, as both accrue benefit, the 6.1 per cent interest rate on loans should be reduced and maintenance grants for poorer students restored immediately, rather than after a lengthy review. But, Mrs May’s advisers wanted to use the review to challenge Labour’s appeal to young people, which hurt the Conservatives in the election. Damian Hinds, the new education secretary, and Sam Gyimah, the new universities minister, are understood to be more sympathetic to No 10’s ambitions for the level of fees to be reconsidered.
Post-16 education funding needs reform , but cuts to university fees and loan rates would in effect direct more government subsidies to the disproportionately privileged children who attend the UK’s universities. This would use up scarce resources that could be applied to make a real difference to social mobility. Social mobility in this country has stagnated. But most agree that there is no silver bullet to addressing the challenge, nor is it just up to schools. It is widely accepted, for example, by those who look at the evidence, that if you want to improve social mobility some of the best returns come from early pre-school interventions. If England is to address its social mobility problems, it needs to intervene earlier and increase the supply and development of good teachers and school leaders. We are having real difficulty in recruiting and retaining both. If you don’t have a sustainable supply of good teachers and leaders no amount of tinkering with structures and selection is going to make a jot of difference to outcomes across the system.
Some in government had complained that Greening was a charisma free zone. But since when has charisma been a requirement for cabinet ministers.? Think, Chris Grayling ,Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond. They are still in the Cabinet ,arent they (and two of these three are probably less competent than Greening)
So, some observers see the appointment of Hinds as an attempt by May to seize back some control of the education agenda- so more selection, more free schools a lifting of the cap on religious school admissions and so on . In other words re-establishing and relaunching the pre-election Green paper agenda. That would be curious politics given that the architect of the Green paper Nick Timothy was sacked following the near disastrous election and the Tories lost seats based on their platform including of course a commitment more selection and grammars.
Greening deserved better treatment, frankly.
Interestingly, Mr Hinds is also passionately committed to social mobility. He wouldn’t do too much harm if he took on board the strategy that his predecessor was developing. It is worth looking at the APPG on Social Mobility report that ,as Chair, he published a couple of years ago. It reveals a sensible acknowledgement of what evidence tells us about where the priorities should lie in education to improve attainment, narrow the performance gap and to improve social mobility. Not included in the reports check list of actions was the need to expand grammars, increase selection throughout the system , increase the number of faith schools nor indeed the need to lift the admissions cap on faith schools.
Its hard to believe that the government would embark on a policy that is not evidence based, but stranger things have happened in politics recently.
Just in case, the anti selection lobby is girding its loins.