Last week Boris Johnson began his tenure as the country’s Prime Minister. Taking his place in Number 10 Downing Street, the Tory leader announced a swathe of investment, from 20,000 new police officers to a new bout of funding for the NHS and an increase in per-pupil funding for both primary and secondary children.
Whilst the lights, cameras and action were pointed in his direction, those in the education sector looked on to see who would be joining the cabinet as the next education secretary.
Gavin Williamson’s appointment makes him the fifth education secretary in just over five years. Before him, there was Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening and Damian Hinds. Ministerial changes this often are akin to playing ‘hot potato’ with one of the country’s most precious systems.
For pupils who have just completed their GCSEs this year, they have had 6 different Ministers in charge of their education.
The impact of consistency
A report this week from the Education Policy Institute revealed that for the first time since 2011 the gap between disadvantaged pupils in secondary schools has increased compared to their peers; resulting in lower levels of attainment.
Nationally, disadvantaged pupils are now on average, 22.6 months behind others when they take GCSEs. This is especially apparent in the North where austerity has impacted schools the most. New ideas haven’t been given the time to make an impact before another change of the guard.
Consistency is key. Take Singapore as an example. In 50 years, there have been only 15 ministers for education. Just three in the last 11 years, all from the same party. Politically, Singapore’s People’s Action Party has remained in power since 1959, allowing the government to create a road map to help improve the lives of Singaporeans and residents. This includes education as much as it does infrastructure, health and social care.
Consequently, Singapore came out on top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) league table for maths, science and reading. In comparison, the UK finished 27th, 15th and 22nd respectively.
In Europe, Switzerland’s education system has been the envy of many governments. Since 1998 there have been just 5 education ministers. Johann Schneider Ammann served 8 years between 2010 and 2018 overseeing the country’s successful ratings in the PISA league table.
Clearly, having a roadmap for success and consistency in office is a contributing factor to how well an education system performs. By changing education ministers regularly, the UK has struggled to implement new policies and ideas brought about by different teams. It will take time for Gavin Williamson to review the current situation and decide upon the best course of action.
With a majority of only one MP in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson may well find his ability to find consistency compromised. Gavin Williamson could find his time as Education Minister cut short leading to the education system suffering once again at the hands of inconsistency.