Blog: Continuity and Leadership of Education

The end of the school year is always a time for reflection. The fact that we had three Secretaries of State for Education during the month of July, as I was preparing this newsletter, altered my original plans. As an initial focus, I thought we could look back at previous incumbents of this role that has overall responsibility for leading the Education system for our children. The person leading the DfE has tremendous opportunities to evaluate, plan and resource all areas and types of Education. This led me to the question:

Do our systems and structures at the top provide the continuity we strive for in schools and that we need from our leaders over time?

I chose this topic of ‘continuity’ in leadership of education as this should be the role of the Secretary of State. We often reflect on our own leadership roles in schools, academies and trusts – so this month, I want us to think about this vital role and how it has and does, affect everyone in schools and the provision for our children and young people. 

I started with a little historical research, looking back initially over the last 10 years from July 2012 to July 2022. During this time, we have had 8 different Secretaries of State for Education, although Nick Gibb has provided continuity as Minister of State for School Standards from 2010 to 2012 and again from 2015 to 2021. 

These 8 leaders are, in date order:

  • Michael Gove – was already in post in July 2012 and stayed in the role until July 2014
  • Nicky Morgan – July 2014 to July 2016
  • Justine Greening – July 2016 to January 2018
  • Damien Hinds – January 2018 to July 2019
  • Gavin Williamson – July 2019 to September 2021
  • Nadhim Zahawi – September 2021 to July 2022
  • Michelle Donelan – 5 July to 7July 2022
  • James Cleverly – the current Secretary, appointed on 7 July 2022

In fairness, I should say that the number should be 7 secretaries in 12 years, not the 8 I originally suggested, as Mr Gove was in post for over 4 years from 2010 and the recent situation is hopefully unique. So, if we use the period since 2010, the average time in post for a Secretary of State for Education over the last 12 years is less than 2 years. 

Following this analysis, I thought this low average time was perhaps unusual. I, therefore, extended the research and reviewed the number of Secretaries of State for Education from 1970 until 2010, as this is the era that spanned my full-time teaching career in schools. There were 26 Secretaries of State (Ministers of Education) during those 40 years and as you can easily realise, the average time in post is even less than our review from July 2012 to July 2022. The office holders include some famous names including Margaret Thatcher, Shirley Williams, Kenneth Baker, David Blunkett and Michael Gove, who all served over 3 years in post, and had a significant influence on the Education system during their periods in office. 

It is not the quality of a particular Secretary of State that is at the centre of this article, although this has often been the topic of discussion in staff rooms, it is the diverse nature of the visions, philosophies and ideas that this variety of people represent. There has been a lack of continuity at the centre of Education for several decades.

So, here are some questions to consider as we plan and prepare for September and celebrate our successes at the end of this year:

  • What does this lack of continuity mean for us all who have chosen a career in Education and remain within it for much longer than any Secretary of State mentioned above?
  • What are the qualifications and experience needed for someone undertaking the role of Secretary of State for Education?
  • What can we do to ensure consistency and continuity in the schools we lead?

I don’t claim to have easy answers, but I can assure you that I am not the only person asking these questions. I was lucky enough recently to attend the conference organised by The Foundation for Education Development (The FED), whose purpose is to develop structures to enable long-term planning for Education. I am going to finish with the quote from Carl Ward, Chair of FED, in the National Education Consultation Report:

We are passionate in our intention to have rooted out and removed the barriers to long-term planning, to have achieved consensus where needed and to have unravelled all of the knots that still tie the ineffective and inessential elements of policy and practice to the experience of a child in a classroom in 2022 as well as long into the future.

Fed-consultation-report 2022

Any new Secretary of State would surely benefit from using the above document as the inspiration for their role from day one. 

John Croghan M.Ed. BA. Cert.Ed.

If you would like to speak to John please email john.croghan@evaluate-ed.com.

Content Development and Monitoring

John Croghan M.Ed. BA. CertEd. has over 50 years of experience in education, as a teacher, leading learning in classrooms from EYFS to Y11, as well as a leader and primary headteacher.  He enjoyed his role supporting Every Child Matters in schools and has advised and supported schools across the West Midlands, as well as leading OFSTED inspections.   He is currently a school consultant, mentor, and governor. 

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