Veteran minister Gibb out, as Zahawi takes up reins at DfE

Longstanding schools minister Nick Gibb finally left the Department for Education (DfE) last week, in a reshuffle which saw Nadhim Zahawi appointed as education secretary. Mr Gibb first served as an education minister from 2010-12, having shadowed the role in opposition from 2005. He began his latest stint at the department in 2014, and has served under three different prime ministers and four different education secretaries in that time. On Twitter Mr Gibb said he was ‘sad not to be continuing as schools minister’.  He left office on the same day as his latest boss, Gavin Williamson, who was sacked and replaced by Mr Zahawi. Mr Williamson was a controversial figure within the education profession and more generally, with the perception having formed over time that he struggled to get to grips with the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic had presented for the education sector, and was also prone to gaffes. His replacement, Nadhim Zahawi, moved from the role of vaccines minister where he had been overseeing the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines. He has previously served in the DfE as minister for children and families from 2018-19. Mr Zahawi was born in Iraq to Kurdish parents, and came to the UK as a refugee when he was nine years old. Commenting following his appointment he said ‘From my own experience, I know what a beacon of opportunity this country can be and I want all children, young people and adults to have access to a brilliant education, the right qualifications and opportunities to secure good jobs. That’s both vital for them and also our economy and is more important now than ever before.’

Reacting to Mr Gibb’s departure, general secretary of the ASCL union, Geoff Barton, wished him well for the future and thanked him ‘for the constructive way in which he has engaged with us over the course of many years’. However, he also called on the government to now move away from some of the reforms and policy priorities with which Mr Gibb has been associated, such as assessments and the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). Mr Barton commented that ‘the emphasis in school performance measures on traditional academic subjects has tended to marginalise technical and creative subjects.’ He added: ‘The government has to reduce the weight of end-of-course exams in GCSEs, explore the use of technology in assessment, ensure these qualifications work better for all young people, and champion the arts and technical subjects. It can also now consign to history its unachievable target for take-up of the EBacc combination of subjects, and it must call a halt to its highly risky plans to overhaul teacher training in England.’ Welcoming Mr Zadawi to his new role, Mr Barton also commented: ‘What our members need from the new Education Secretary is a greater sense of strategy and support than has been the case in the past so that we can together provide children and young people with the very best start in life. We look forward to working with him and taking the next step forward in an education system of which we are hugely proud.’

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