Don’t expect much from this zombie government

Editorial: Does Burghart leave a legacy as skills minister, and what does this week's cabinet chaos mean for FE?

Editorial: Does Burghart leave a legacy as skills minister, and what does this week's cabinet chaos mean for FE?

Shane Chowen

8 Jul 2022, 10:30

FE Week’s publication cycle for the year comes to a close at the end of a dramatic week in politics. A cascade of ministerial resignations, the shortest tenure of a secretary of state for education in history and, ultimately, the downfall of Boris Johnson.

Burghart leaves office as skills minister with two major qualification reviews unfinished.

Donelan quit as the primary cheerleader for the lifelong loan entitlement and was the Department for Education’s culture-war flagbearer; she leaves a government bill (the freedom of speech in higher education bill) still making its way through parliament.

Zahawi, famous for sporting a “TL” badge in support of T Levels, left his post, ironically, during the Department for Education’s ‘T Level celebration week’.

For those hoping for any progress on policy this summer though, think again.

Burghart at least saw through the skills and post-16 education act. While not in office to oversee much of the act’s implementation, he did at least see the trailblazer local skills improvement plans and got draft statutory guidance on provider access to schools out the door.

As a (contractually obliged) champion of T Levels, he will look on from the outside as the first cohort of T Level students receive their results in August.

Early on in his 294-day tenure as minister for skills, Burghart talked about how he wanted to make sure that people without lower-level qualifications “weren’t forgotten”. Yet an unfinished piece of work of his is the ongoing review of qualifications at level 2 and below, which training providers, Ofqual and awarding bodies all warned would damage choice and confuse the qualifications landscape even more.

Similarly, DfE gave awarding bodies until today to appeal against proposals to cut public funding for level 3 qualifications they believe overlap with T Levels.

Burghart was also hoping to announce a new wave of employer representative bodies next term to write the next set of local skills improvement plans.

The prospect of a new prime minister, a new cabinet and a new ministerial team at DfE could significantly slow down operations in Whitehall.

Meanwhile, the sector battles a crisis in staffing, budgets not keeping up with costs and an economy heading for recession.

New education secretary James Cleverly doesn’t have the authority – or the time – for a reform agenda of his own.

The remnants of the Johnson administration are a zombie government just waiting to be replaced.

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