Westminster chaos: James Cleverly appointed education secretary as Boris Johnson resigns

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Revolving door? James Cleverly has been appointed as the third education secretary in two days and the eighth in eight years

James Cleverly has been appointed as the third education secretary in two days and the eighth in eight years.

It comes after Michelle Donelan resigned after barely 36 hours in post. Ms Donelan was appointed on the evening of Tuesday (July 5) and resigned on Thursday morning (July 7).

She had been given the role following the promotion of her predecessor Nadhim Zahawi to the post of chancellor.

Mr Zahawi had only been in post for 10 months, one of the shortest stints of any education secretary in recent history. Although Ms Donelan’s 36-hour term is now the shortest ever in history.

Almost 60 ministers resigned this week in a bid to force Boris Johnson to quit, including schools minister Robin Walker, children’s minister Will Quince, and minister for skills Alex Burghart, who walked out of the DfE on Wednesday (July 6). Mr Johnson finally stepped down on the afternoon of July 7.

Indeed, the only minister left in the DfE at the time of writing is the academies minister Baroness Barran.

In her resignation letter to Mr Johnson, Ms Donelan wrote: “While I remain very worried about the prospect of no ministers in the Department (for Education) as we approach results day – the impact on students is real – as you know, yesterday, I pleased with you to do the right thing and resign for the sake of our country and out Party, both are more important than any one person.

“In life we must always do what we believe is right. Above all I am here to serve the British public. I see no way that you can continue in post, but without a formal mechanism to remove you it seems that the only way that this is only possible is for those of us who remain in cabinet to force your hand.”

James Cleverly was first elected to Parliament in 2015 as MP for Braintree. He has previously served in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Exiting in the EU.

Responding today, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said that pressing issues left hanging in mid-air by the chaos in Westminster included the teacher pay settlement for September and the heavily criticised Schools Bill.

The School Teachers’ Review Body is expected to report next week with its recommendations for the 2022/23 and 2023/24 settlements. The government will then need to respond.

However, with unions threatening strike action unless pay across the board matches inflation and with the Treasury being reluctant to give the DfE any more funding, Mr Cleverly faces a challenging situation.

Mr Courtney said: "It is simply not credible to claim a government is still governing when the education department almost entirely empties itself of ministers in a little over 24 hours. At the rate of resignations, there is no prospect right now of an education department fit to oversee any of the challenges of the coming weeks.

"We can only hope that any eventual successor, emerging from this chaos, will reflect on the government’s recent difficulties over the Schools Bill. It is irrelevant to the actual situation in schools and the many pressing issues in education.

“We need a secretary of state to fight a battle with the chancellor for schools funding. We need a secretary of state to deal with the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention and support staff retention. We need a secretary of state looking at the STRB report who can also decide to award a pay rise which at least matches inflation.

“The last of these is perhaps most pressing, as the summer term ends soon and school leaders must be in knowledge of the pay rise and any additional funding in order to plan their budget for next year. It is deeply inconsiderate and insulting to everyone not to resolve this matter by the end of term."

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