Damian Hinds: how will he affect schools?

Richard Skipper
Richard Skipper
A new year, a new education secretary. Justine Greening has left the government for the backbenches, with Damian Hinds appointed as the education secretary following the cabinet reshuffle on Monday.

But before we let old acquaintance be forgot, it’s worth having a look at the record of the incoming secretary, and what his appointment could mean for the government’s priorities for schools in the near future.

 

Parliamentary career

Damian Hinds has represented the constituency of East Hampshire since 2010.

According to his official GOV.UK biography, his parliamentary career has included chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and working on the Education Select Committee.

Matching up to this, his political interests listed on the Parliament website include education and social mobility.

However, this is his first post in the Department for Education. He’s previously held ministerial positions in the HM Treasury and the Department of Work and Pensions, and worked in a past life in the pubs, brewing and hotel industries.

This doesn’t leave us with an awful lot of a record on education policy to pour over, but it does mean he has some of the ‘real job’ experience that politicians are often criticised for lacking.

 

Supporting the government

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the new education secretary has been a keen supporter of the central Conservative policies on education ever since his entry into Parliament.

According to the vote-recording website ‘They work for you’, Hinds has consistently voted in support of academisation and greater autonomy for schools.

This suggests we shouldn’t expect any major changes in the government’s support for the academies project, but whether there may be a return to the Nicky Morgan-era push for a faster pace of academisation is up in the air.

 

A social mobility focus

Last month, Greening announced the government’s social mobility action plan. However, don’t expect this focus on social mobility to leave with her.

Hinds chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility when they published a report on ‘7 key truths about social mobility’ in 2012.

It argues that the point of greatest leverage for social mobility is what happens between ages 0 to 3 in the home, but it also states that mobility can be encouraged through education.

The report emphasises a need to improve the quality of teaching, and to develop personal resilience and emotional wellbeing in young people.

There’s no particularly radical proposals in the report, but also nothing that most schools wouldn’t agree with. However, don’t be surprised to see Hinds use similar language and ideas when he starts to tackle his new job.

 

Changes to faith school admissions

In 2014, Hinds called on the government to reconsider its stipulation that only 50% of places at new faith free schools can be reserved for pupils who practice the faith represented by the school.

He said the cap was dissuading the creation of Catholic free schools.

The government did run a consultation on this in September 2016, but it is yet to issue a response. Perhaps the new education secretary might get around to it?

 

Grammar schools

Lastly, it’s time for a little bit of speculation.

Greening’s lack of enthusiasm for grammar schools has been speculated as one of the reasons for her departure from the post.

With a new grammar school-educated secretary in charge, will Hinds want to encourage the expansion of existing grammar schools? There’s no public record of his opinion on grammar schools, but all signs seem to point to a revisit of the idea.

 

Let’s wait and see…

Of course, as much as we might read into his record, there’s only so much we can say about Damian Hinds and what he means for schools unless we break out a crystal ball.

What we can safely say is that the appointment of the new secretary doesn’t appear to be a radical break from the education policy that came before.

Academies, social mobility and grammar schools have been on the agenda for a while now, but there’s every chance there might be a surprise or two in store.

It wouldn’t be British politics without a few unexpected results.

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