Cabinet reshuffle

Confirmed: Williamson sacked as education secretary in reshuffle

The MP for South Staffordshire has been in post since July 2019

The MP for South Staffordshire has been in post since July 2019

The education secretary Gavin Williamson has been sacked from his role in Boris Johnson’s reshuffle.

He tweeted today that it had been a “privilege to serve” as education secretary, and said he looked forward to “continuing to support the prime minster and the government”.

He added that he was “particularly proud” of the “transformational reforms I’ve led in post-16 education: in further education colleges, our skills agenda, apprenticeships and more”.

It was initially rumoured he was being lined up as a potential Northern Ireland secretary, but it has since been reported that he is likely to return to the backbenches.

A Downing Street source said Williamson had played a “key role in transforming the skills agenda”.

“The prime minister is grateful for his loyalty and service.”

The prime minister’s office is also yet to name his successor at the Department for Education. It is reported that Oliver Dowden, currently the culture secretary, could take over.

Kemi Badenoch, currently a Treasury and equalities minister, has also previously been tipped as a potential successor.

Williamson is leaving after more than two years in the job, much of which has been during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He has faced heavy criticism for his handling of the pandemic’s impact on schools, colleges, training providers and universities.

They include the way school and FE provider closures were planned, the lack of contingency planning for exam cancellations and the confusion caused over January’s BTEC and other vocational exams, and FE and skills providers originally being included, then excluded, then included again in catch-up funding.

As of last week he had a net approval rating of -53 among Conservative Party members. He has faced repeated calls to resign from Labour and education unions, and even the Institute for Government think tank called for him to go last year.

Williamson served in the role for 785 days, making him the 17th longest-serving (or the 19th shortest-serving) education secretary. He beat his predecessor Damian Hinds by 222 days, but did not make it to the average term length for education secretaries, which is 850.

A Downing Street source said today the reshuffle was being conducted “to put in place a strong and united team to build back better from the pandemic”.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said Williamson had “failed children and young people, their parents and our hard working education staff”.

“Two years of exams chaos and staff abandoned, unsupported and demoralised. That is Gavin Williamson’s legacy.”

University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said Williamson will be remembered by university and college staff as a “disastrous secretary of state who caused deep and lasting damage”.

“From the mutant algorithm which attempted to hardwire inequalities into the exam system, to his negligent mismanagement of the pandemic leading to schools, universities and colleges becoming Covid incubators, Williamson’s long list of failures is shocking,” she added.

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