Our priorities for new Education Secretary Damian Hinds

Damian Hinds Creative Commons

Government reshuffles are like a three course meal – though somewhat rarer.

For starters, you get a week of gossip and rumour. This time, the starter was the political equivalent of melon – something of a disappointment to many, as it was widely reported that Justine Greening would be moved from education.

The main course was slightly more appealing. New Secretary of State Damian Hinds seems likely to continue the focus on social mobility. Other new education appointments, former apprenticeship tsar Nadhim Zahawi and returning DfE Minister Sam Gyimah, have gone down well – as have these tweets about how Nick Gibb has been a Minister at the DfE for... a while.

Reshuffle dessert consists of various worthy people proffering ideas to the new ministers. While #DearDamian took twitter by storm (in a very British, we-don’t-have-proper-storms type way), the most noteworthy offering was from Sam Freedman, who advises on the Impetus-PEF Public Affairs Committee, in TES.

The advice reflected both Sam’s experience as a former policy adviser to a Secretary of State (“focus on two or three things”) and his current role as Executive Director at Teach First (priority one: “improving teacher recruitment and retention.”) Picking up on Sam’s theme of “focus on two or three things”, here’s what we’d like Damian Hinds to focus on:

1.       Young people’s transitions into employment. For many young people getting a good education which prepares them for the workplace is crucial to having any quality of life. The alternative is bleak. As a former Employment Minister, Damian Hinds is uniquely placed to add insight to the transition from education to the world of work, particularly the growing number of young people stuck outside education and employment for over a year, identified in our Youth Jobs Index.

2.       GCSE maths and English resits. The most fundamental skills demanded by employers are English and maths, and it is right to expect those who do not achieve good GCSEs by 16 to try to catch up before they leave education. But almost invariably they do not. As we highlighted in our Life After School report, just 17% of free school meals pupils who’ve failed their English GCSEs at 16 successfully catch up by age 19 (and only 25% of non-free school meals pupils do so) and just 8% who fail maths at 16 successfully catch up by age 19 (13% of non-free school meals pupils). Across the entire education debate this seems to be the dog that doesn’t bark; improving maths and English outcomes would boost both productivity and social mobility – a win-win.

3.       Back what works. Let’s be frank. Brexit dominates the political agenda, but the Prime Minister wants a positive domestic agenda too – especially in education, which is always high in voters' priorities. There are no prizes for timidity so be bold and back what works. The plan to expand schemes like Magic Breakfast, to give free breakfasts to more pupils is a great example – it works. If there’s going to be a review of tertiary education funding, remember that tuition fees fund widening participation and therefore enable excellent schemes like The Access Project and IntoUniversity to support many more young people to get in to university. And if there’s going to be an increased focus on exclusions and alternative provision, listen to voices like Dallaglio RugbyWorks and Catch22, who work day in, day out with this tricky group.

Like any meal, the ultimate proof of the pudding is in the eating. By focussing on these few crucial issues, Damian Hinds can ensure he is remembered as a nourishing meal and not the political equivalent of a dirty burger. 

Ben Gadsby is Policy and Research Manager at Impetus-PEF

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