Justine Greening, the former Secretary of State for International Development, has been appointed Education Secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet.
Ms Greening, who revealed she was in a same-sex relationship during this year’s Pride event in London, will also serve as Minister for Women and Equalities. She becomes the first openly LGBTI minister to hold either the education or equalities portfolios, and is the first woman to be Education Secretary since Alan Johnson replaced Ruth Kelly in 2006.
She also becomes the first female cabinet member to be in a same-sex relationship and, perhaps more astonishingly, is the first Education Secretary to have received a comprehensive school education.
Ms Greening’s relationship with her partner of several years, Tess, only came to light recently when she chose to open up. Speaking to the Evening Standard, she explained: “I hadn’t been particularly open with it but I’d never had a problem with it, actually. And I thought it was time to be clear-cut…Unfortunately we’re still in a world where people need to do an announcement but I was pleased to do mine. And I think Tess is very pleased that I felt able to be clear about our relationship.”
Ms Greening replaces Nicky Morgan, whose own appointment last year was widely criticised due to her having voted against the same-sex marriage legislation. Ms Greening, in her previous role at International Development, frequently spoke out against gender inequality, discrimination, female genital mutilation and child marriage – and is seen as an ideal candidate to take over the equalities brief.
The appointment has led to some questioning whether statutory LGBTI-inclusive sex and relationship education could be on the political agenda. Earlier this year, the government rejected calls to make inclusive education statutory, with suggestions that Nicky Morgan had been prevented from instigating reforms. There are hopes that Mrs May, who was instrumental in ensuring that the same-sex marriage legislation was passed, and Ms Greening may be more friendly towards the kinds of education reforms being advocated by the TIE campaign and other pro-inclusion groups.
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, the HIV charity, said: “We now welcome the appointment of Justine Greening, who has a strong personal connection with LGBT issues and knowledge of HIV from her time at Department for International Development. We hope she will use these to great effect in her new role as Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities in order to ensure all young people receive mandatory, quality and inclusive Sex and Relationships Education – whatever their sexuality and wherever they go to school.”
Nicky Morgan was sorry to leave the cabinet, but took to twitter to express good wishes towards her successor. She tweeted: “Congrats to my successor @JustineGreening – she’s committed to excellence in education, equalities and did great work for women at DIFID.”
Leaving Downing Street this morning, Ms Greening told the media that the appointment was her “perfect job”. However, she faces some big decision in the coming weeks, not least in relation to the potential introduction of a new funding formula for education – which would reallocate how much each school has been promised for 2017. It comes after complaints of uneven levels of funding and was seen as a government priority. However, it is politically difficult as it will produce winners and losers, with the inevitable result of some individual schools facing significant cuts.
There are also plans on the table for a review of the teacher training system and abolition of Qualified Teacher Status.
The Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, John Pugh, called on Ms Greening to change course and “put a stop to damaging proposals to scrap Qualified Teacher Status and parent governors, as well as plans to vastly increase numbers of academies”.