Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Electoral gains

By Tim Andrew, SHA President

While Andrew Adonis' appointment was the one that made post-election headlines, there are several other new education ministers worth keeping an eye on.

When I introduced Ruth Kelly at our annual conference in March, I made the slightly flippant comment that a career in politics must be a funny old business.

One minute you are acknowledged as a rising star but not a household name; the next, as a consequence of a little local difficulty elsewhere, you are pitched into one of the biggest departments of state in the middle of a massive programme of change.

Subsequent events, and the general election in particular, have reinforced my views about a life in politics.

Tim Collins and Stephen Twigg had both won the respect of school leaders and in a fairer world, where political survival depended on your own performance, neither would have lost his seat.

As it is, both were sacrificed on the altar of national mood swings and perceptions of parties, their policies and their leaders.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or the salt mine, Ruth Kelly is back with a completely new team.

Notwithstanding the public turbulence around our annual conference, we have been establishing a good dialogue with Ruth Kelly and we will build on that.

There is robust discussion to come on parents' roles and responsibilities, the future of 14-19 qualifications and the Children Act, but the dialogue will be positive.

Of the new ministers, Jacqui Smith has served in the DfES before and was well-regarded. She had a career in teaching and served as a department head.

From SHA's meeting with her in mid-May, I am optimistic that her feet are firmly on the ground and she has a sense of realism as minister of state for schools.

Beverly Hughes takes over as children's minister. She has served in the Home Office and faces the challenge of implementing the Children Act, with the huge agenda of cultural change it requires across deeply entrenched professional practices in health, social services, education and the rest.

The skills minister, Phil Hope, has experience as a secondary school teacher in Kettering, which should serve him well in working with the Foster review and further education reform.

However, the appointment that grabbed the headlines was that of Andrew, now Lord, Adonis as one of the junior ministers. He has been vilified in some quarters as the architect of top-up fees and the academies programme. Elsewhere he has been criticised for his alleged influence through Number 10.

Regardless, SHA has long had a good relationship with him and indeed, we met with him during his first week in office. From past experience, we know him to be open to rational debate about how best to raise achievement.

Whatever others may wish to say about the mechanism used to bring him into the government, he is now in publicly accountable office. He will be subject to challenge in the Lords, where debate is often more considered and grown up than in the Commons. No bad thing in my view.

All in all, the ministerial team looks strong and you may be sure that SHA will be pitching into the debate strongly in the interests of our members and their schools.

For me, there will be one critical test: the future of the 'social partnership' involving SHA and other unions, which led to real progress under Charles Clarke and David Miliband.

By definition, no one partner has achieved everything it hoped for, including the government. (Like a school timetable, you know it is right if everyone moans a bit.)

But it has provided a forum for real progress in several key areas, due in large part to personal commitment of DfES officials and ministers.

Similarly, the Implementation Review Unit has no hope of success without the commitment of senior politicians to take its recommendations to heart.

Since 1944, the average length in office of education secretaries of state has been less than two and a half years. For junior ministers, it is probably less.

In recent years, SHA has established good working relationships with each ministerial team. Even though policies are not always popular with SHA members, we have benefited from their keenness to engage with SHA.

They recognise, as some of their predecessors did not, that we have to implement their policies and that we can therefore make a valuable contribution. We hope for the same from the new ministerial team.

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