Downing Street has confirmed that the Department for Education will take on the remit of higher and further education policy, apprenticeships and wider skills policy from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
In a statement Number Ten said, ‘Bringing these responsibilities together will mean that the Government can take a comprehensive end-to-end view of skills and education, supporting people from early years to postgraduate study and work.’
As a result of the changes, staff working in BIS on higher and further education policy, apprenticeships and skills will transfer to the DfE.
Downing Street said that the DfE would continue to focus on its core aims, ‘leading the Government’s drive to give all children the chance to get the best possible education at school’ and ‘improving childcare’, so that working parents will have access to 30 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds from September 2017.
However, the department will also take on responsibility for reforming the Higher Education sector ‘to boost competition and continue to improve the quality of education that students receive’, and deliver ‘more apprenticeships through a fundamental change in the UK’s approach to skills in the workplace’.
The Education Committee welcomed the new education secretary and the restructuring of the DfE.
Committee chair Neil Carmichael MP said, ‘The Education sub-Committee, formed together with the BIS Select Committee, has been considering the challenge of how education, across schools, Further Education and Higher Education, can have the best possible impact on business and the economy. It’s really important for the future productivity of our economy that education and skills are joined up in an effective way and I’m delighted that the Prime Minister has taken the opportunity to reflect this in reshaping the machinery of Government.’
Teaching unions and early years organisations were also positive about the changes.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said, it was ‘good to have an education secretary who has been educated at a comprehensive school’, adding that the new education secretary faced challenges such as the teacher recruitment crisis and ‘botched qualification reform’.
‘Nicky Morgan failed to acknowledge the scale and severity of these problems,’ she said.
Ms Greening must demonstrate that she has a firmer grasp of her Departmental tiller and that she has a keen eye for the detailed implementation of education policy announcements.
‘Ms Greening’s interest in vocational qualifications should be of great benefit as vocational training and apprenticeships are incorporated into the DfE’s remit. This makes good sense as does the uniting of higher and further education, with compulsory education.
‘We wish Ms Greening every success in her new, highly challenging role. ATL will seek to work with her to improve the educational standards and life chances of all children, young people and adults, all of whom should have access to life-long learning if the UK is to meet the skills challenge which has become even more acute post Brexit.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said he looked forward to working closely with Ms Greening on the development of early years policy.
‘It is by now well-established that for the vast majority of children, education starts, not at the school gates, but in the early years. As such, we hope that Ms Greening will ensure that, under her leadership, government policy will continue to reflect this fact, and that she will look to work closely with the sector as she begins work on her broader education remit,’ he said.
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice, the union for education professionals, said, ‘This is an opportunity for the DfE to move in a new direction, away from the confrontational Gove era and “Gove-lite” period under Nicky Morgan.
‘A failure to listen to professional views and evidence resulted in the SATs debacle, the continuing obsession with academisation, and the controversial appointment of the new Ofsted Chief Inspector.
‘It seems that the DfE will take on higher and further education, skills and apprenticeships. This is a pragmatic move to bring education together under one roof, and one that we welcome.’