Good news for schools but less clear for higher education as new Education Secretary takes office

As the education sector welcomes its fifth Education Secretary in five years, what will this mean for the different elements of the sector?

Looking at previous voting history, Gavin Williamson has consistently voted in favour of school autonomy and for academies. So, will we see another push towards wholesale academisation?

For the skills economy, his background in manufacturing means he has insight into the challenges facing employers in sourcing highly skilled employees. The Prime Minister has made clear in recent speeches and in his articles in the Telegraph that he is committed to apprenticeships, and in Gavin Williamson he has a vocal advocate to drive this agenda.

Gavin Williamson also took part in a debate in 2013 about apprenticeships and said

I strongly believe that apprenticeships provide an extremely valid alternative to university courses.

Whilst the Government will miss the three million apprenticeships target by some margin, the wider drive towards apprenticeships will clearly be an ongoing priority. This provides opportunity for providers of apprenticeships to grow – for private training providers, FE colleges and universities. The associated complexity of the funding compliance requirements can be perceived as a barrier for providers and employers, so it is important to invest in getting the structure right.

Further Education colleges deliver much more than apprenticeships; funding is tight in all areas and set to become more complex with the devolution of Adult Education Budget. The introduction of the insolvency regime, with the first college placed in administration, has brought greater scrutiny of the college sector and governance. Colleges will be hoping for investment in all areas along with recognition of their role in young people’s lives, as well as continued learning.

So, on the face of it the new Education Secretary appointment looks positive for schools, particularly academies and apprenticeships, but the picture is less clear for universities. The general tenor of the Prime Minister has been to consider alternatives to university. The recent Augar review also took this stance, and focused on the ‘missing middle’ of levels 4 and 5 and the work of FE colleges. However, the Prime Minister’s inaugural speech did refer to universities as one of the UK’s assets and the Education Secretary has consistently voted for tuition fees; but this does not mean he would not be supportive of the Augar position to retain, but reduce, fees.

Whilst schools have been promised more money, for apprenticeships and universities there has been no such promise. In the context of a number of spending commitments to the health sector, the police and public sector pay, as well as Brexit planning, balancing the competing calls for funding will not be straightforward.

For further information, please contact Louise Tweedie.

Related industries