Ed Balls stays as Schools Secretary

05 Jun 2009

 It is a great relief that that Ed Balls will stay in post as Children and Schools Secretary. Since 2001, education has already had six Secretaries of State (Blunkett, Morris, Clarke, Kelly, Johnson, and Balls) and that is far too much change in such a short period. 

Amid all the excitement generated over the reshuffle, it is worth remembering just what a daft system it is to have people heading government departments for as short a time as one or two years. You have to go all the way back to Blunkett to find an Education Secretary who stayed in post for a whole Parliament. Yet this should be the norm.

No-one would think it a good idea to change the head teacher of a school, or a university vice-chancellor,  every 18 months.

Of course, the universities and colleges sector has not been so fortunate: John Denham is on the move after just under two years in the job. This is a shame. He had made an unspectacular start (and that is no bad thing) but he had steadily put in place a whole series of sector wide reviews which will underpin the all-important review of student finance due to begin later this year. A bit of evidence-gathering and reflection before action is a good thing -- it's just that ministers rarely get time enough to do that.

 Education policy takes time to formulate and even longer to implement. Too often the architects of change are not around when reforms move out of Westminster into the real world. 

For example, we are in a critical year for the 14-19 school reforms in England. Ed Balls has been a champion of the diplomas. It would be crazy to have moved him now.

After all, change cannot be achieved overnight. Even small changes. This week I bumped into Ed Balls in the new coffee bar in the basement of the DCSF. As he patiently queued for his sandwich alongside his civil servants he explained that getting this new facility was something he wanted to do when he first came to the department. It had taken nearly two years to achieve.

So, if it takes that long to bring about small change, all the more reason why Prime Ministers  - of all colours - should try to leave their ministers in their jobs for long enough to take responsibility for their ideas and actions.


User Comments

Charles Cornelius - 08 Jun 2009

I'd agree that it's crazy for ministers to move departments after just a year or two. Isn't it equally crazy that people can be put in charge of the education department when they have no experience and no understanding of education? Ed Balls' only real job was as a journalist at the Financial Times. And now he's in charge of education. Go figure!

While I wouldn't go the American cabinet route and appoint unelected experts, surely Labour has some MPs with a bit of experience in education, people who, unlike Ed Balls, might actually sound as if they know what they're talking about when they fall to the temptation, like most politicians, of sounding off at the first opportunity.

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