Anne Milton and Robert Goodwill join the Department for Education ministerial team, whilst Justine Greening and Nick Gibb stay in place.
Following last week’s general election, Theresa May has carried out a very minor reshuffle of her ministers. When it looked likely that May’s Conservatives were on course for a landslide victory, there were strong rumours that she would strengthen her position with a significant change in ministerial personnel. The reality of a Conservative minority government has resulted in very few changes.
Justine Greening remains Secretary of State for Education. She is thought by many to be unenthusiastic about the return of grammar schools, but commentators predict this will be off the table as the Government will struggle to get sufficient backing for the proposal to pass through the House of Commons. The retention of Greening is seen as further confirmation that grammars will not make a resurgence.
Elsewhere in the Department, Nick Gibb (School Standards), Jo Johnson (Universities), Caroline Dinenage (Early Years) and Lord Nash (School System) have all retained their pre-election briefs.
The two ministers who will not be joining them are Edward Timpson (Children and Families) and Robert Halfon (Apprenticeships). Timpson lost his Crewe and Nantwich seat in Cheshire to Labour’s Laura Smith by just 48 votes. Smith is herself a teacher and education campaigner. Halfon meanwhile retained his seat but was dropped by May.
Why was Robert Halfon sacked?
The decision to get rid of Robert Halfon has surprised a number of commentators. Halfon was seen as very committed to his role, with a long history of history of interest in the FE sector.
When asked why May had decided to sack him, Halfon said “I wasn’t really given a reason”. There has been speculation, however, that it was because Halfon is a close ally of the former Chancellor George Osborne who has been very critical of May since taking over as Editor of the London Evening Standard. Since his sacking, Halfon too has criticised the Conservative election campaign.
Crucially for schools, Halfon is a strong advocate of the careers benchmark scheme. Only time will tell whether his successor, Anne Milton, will give the scheme the same backing.
Who are Anne Milton and Robert Goodwill?
Anne Milton has been the MP for Guildford in Surrey since 2005. She is originally from West Sussex, where she attended a grammar school in Haywards Heath, before training as a nurse. She worked in the NHS for 25 years as a district nurse and in palliative care before her election to Parliament.
Since taking her seat in the Commons, Milton has served on the Health Select Committee and held a number of ministerial and shadow ministerial posts. Most recently she was Deputy Chief Whip (2015-17). She has now been appointed Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills.
Edward Timpson’s replacement as Children and Families Minister is Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby MP. He was educated at an independent Quaker school in York, before studying Agriculture at Newcastle University. He is a farmer and a funeral director.
Like Milton, Goodwill joined the Commons in 2005 after five years as a Member of the European Parliament. He has held a number of ministerial positions, most recently Minister of State for Immigration in the Home Office.
Jeremy Corbyn has also carried out a very minor reshuffle. It was thought that he might use the opportunity to bring back some of his more centrist colleagues who quit the shadow cabinet after he took office, but he has instead chosen only to fill the vacancies left by retired colleagues.
This means that Angela Rayner remains Shadow Secretary of State for Education. It has yet to be announced whether the rest of Labour’s shadow education team will stay in place, although it is thought likely. Before the election, these were Mike Kane (Schools), Tulip Siddiq (Early Years), Emma Lewell-Buck (Children and Families) and Gordon Marsden (Apprenticeships and Skills).
What about the Liberal Democrats?
In the last Parliament, the Lib Dem education spokesperson was former head teacher John Pugh. However, with Pugh not running in the 2017 election, the position was taken up by Sarah Olney who won the Richmond Park by-election against Zac Goldsmith in December last year. Goldsmith retook his seat last week, so it is unclear who will now take the education brief for the Liberal Democrats.
Following the resignation of Tim Farron on Wednesday, it is likely that we will have to wait until a new leader is in place before we know who will hold the education brief.