From education to employment

Sector Response to the appointment of Gavin Williamson as Secretary of State for Education

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education

Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, has been appointed Secretary of State for Education in Boris Johnson’s first evening in office as Prime Minister.

Gavin was previously Secretary of State for Defence from 2 November 2017 to 1 May 2019. He was Chief Whip (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury) from 14 July 2016 to 2 November 2017. 

Gavin was known for his innovative ideas while in his previous Defence Secretary role, which also ended with a little bit of controversy. Reports in the mainstream media were widely shared whilst he was in the Defence Secretary’s post, such as innovative cost-saving ideas like arming tractors with guns, disguising missile defense systems as drinks lorries and re-purposing ferries as landing craft. Personally, I think the last two ideas sound pretty cool, but we do not know if the mainstream media has sensationalised these initial exploratory ideas.

We can do with some outside of the box thinking in the education sector to develop a system that meets the future education and work needs with the World moving into Education 4.0. Williams was removed from post as the Defence Secretary over the Huawei 5G leak scandal by previous Prime Minister Theresa May, where he was accused of leaking information from a National Security Council meeting. Williamson strenuously denied any involvement in the Huawei leak and no formal charges were brought against him. 

So what is the Sector Response to the news about Gavin Williamson taking up the Secretary of State post?

Steve Frampton, President of the Association of Colleges (Aoc) said:

“The job of Secretary of State for Education is one of the best, and most important, in government. There is the potential to change the lives of millions of people, transform our communities, and support the long-term success of business and our economy.

“Gavin Williamson has stepped into the role at one of the most crucial times in modern history. The House of Common’s own Education Select Committee this week released a report that warns that the education system risks “reaching breaking point” unless government acts. And so we urge him to act and act quickly.

“Report after report, expert after expert have been clear, colleges have been over-looked and under-funded, having faced a decade of unprecedented cuts. The new Secretary of State has the potential to shape a legacy in which the forgotten 50% are remembered and supported, businesses are equipped with the skilled staff they are crying out for, and our communities and people across the country can thrive. That legacy can only happen if he prioritises further education, including with real, meaningful and sustainable investment in colleges. We look forward to working with the new Secretary of State to make this happen.”

Tom Bewick July19 100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) comments:

“It’s great to see a state educated politician take over the helm at the Department for Education. Gavin Williamson will be judged on the basis of one overriding objective: and that is his ability to secure more investment in further education and skills. He needs to make the case to the Treasury that you can’t secure a world-class workforce on the cheap. Improving skills, productivity and social mobility is a shared challenge. Top of his priority list should be to sort out the financial sustainability of the Apprenticeship Levy. He should resist the calls from business to turn the Levy into a general skills fund; and instead, ensure the money is targeted at below Level 6 apprenticeships. This should include a focus on more 16-24 year olds being able to benefit from the learning and earning route to success, without them having to rack up huge graduate debts. 

“From FAB’s perspective, we’d like to see the new ministerial team become a genuine champion of the awarding and assessment industry. We export more qualifications and expertise than any other country on the planet. Attacking the value of vocational qualifications therefore is not a sensible way of building parity of esteem. It only undermines the hard work of many learners and teachers. We look forward to discussing his predecessor’s various qualifications reviews; as well as playing our part in constructively helping the government to deliver on its promises of turning the nation into a leading system of technical and vocational education.”

MarkDawe 100x100Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said:

“Naturally AELP is greatly encouraged that Gavin Williamson was championing apprenticeships in the House of Commons only 6 months after the Richard blueprint for the apprenticeship reforms was published.  We therefore welcome him to his new post and hope that he will translate the Prime Minister’s recent promise into action that apprenticeships should be ‘funded properly’. 

“The acute shortage of levy funding for SME employers and the disastrous fall in intermediate level apprenticeships have to be addressed quickly and we urge the Secretary of State to push the case for apprenticeships and other key skill programmes hard with the Treasury because the importance of a homegrown well-skilled workforce cannot be exaggerated as we prepare for Brexit.”

KevinCourtney100x100Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The new Education Secretary must hit the ground running.

“We need to recruit 15,593 new teachers in the next three years, but teacher recruitment and retention problems are serious and getting worse. According to the latest school census, almost a third of teachers (32.3%) leave within five years of qualifying, a record high.

“Teacher workload is amongst the highest in the world and teacher job satisfaction amongst the lowest. High-stakes testing and failing accountability systems continue to have a distorting effect on children’s learning and are the underlying cause of both the overwork and poor job satisfaction of teachers.

“Schools and colleges are still facing the effects of huge funding cuts, teachers and support staff are losing their jobs, and class sizes are rising.

“Past Secretaries of State have failed to make any serious progress on these issues, and all the while children’s education and wellbeing are suffering.”


Mark Farrar 100x100Mark Farrar, CEO of AAT, responds to Gavin Williamson’s appointment as Secretary of State for Education:

 “Gavin Williamson steps into the role of Secretary of State for Education at a critical juncture in this nation’s history. Whatever the nature of any final Brexit deal, Britain’s productivity and competitiveness will matter more than ever in a post-Brexit environment. That will mean small businesses, who make up over 99% of all businesses and employ over 16 million people, will need access to highly-skilled talent provided through our education system.

“He must therefore ensure there is parity in funding for those who are pursing technical and further education solutions, not just for schools and those taking the higher education route. In his first speech as Prime Minister yesterday, Boris Johnson said that it was his job to ‘make sure your kids get a superb education, wherever they are in the country’, today adding that it is ‘vital we now invest in further education and skills’. We hope this is extended further to allow for superb education for all, leaving nobody behind.”


Stephen Evans LW 100x100Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute comments:

“The new Secretary of State has a big to-do list. That needs to include securing extra investment for Further Education and adult learning. We need this in order to reverse falls in participation in learning among adults and restart stalled progress in improving skills for young people. This is central to both boosting economic growth and promoting social justice. We wish the new Secretary of State well and stand ready to support the whole ministerial team and wider government in making sure everyone gets the chance to learn for life and work.”

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