Damian Hinds has given his first two major interviews since he was appointed as education secretary on January 8.
The MP for East Hampshire has spoken to The Sunday Times, and appeared on The Andrew Marr Show this morning.
Here’s what we learned…
1. More grammar schools will be encouraged to expand
Although controversial proposals to open new grammar schools across England are dead in the water, the country’s existing 163 selective schools have Hinds’ “enthusiastic” backing to expand.
The expansion of grammar schools is also a polarising issue; the decision in 2015 to allow the Weald of Kent grammar school to open an “annexe” on a site nine miles away was decried by critics as a move to open a new selective school by the back door. There has also been criticism of increases in capacity at grammars in some selective areas.
Hinds told the Sunday Times he would “enthusiastically” back the expansion of England’s existing grammar schools, and said he was keen to support “good school places” where there was demand from parents.
“What we are looking at is about the existing grammar schools, and schools in general where there’s demand from parents and they’re providing a good education and there’s a need in the area, schools in general can expand,” Hinds told Marr.
“What I’m looking at is how, for selective schools, those same options to expand are there as for other schools.”
2. The faith admissions cap WILL be scrapped
Hinds confirmed in his Sunday Times interview that he will press ahead with plans to get rid of the 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions to over-subscribed free schools.
The proposal, first announced in the last government’s schools that work for everyone consultation in 2016, was put on hold after last year’s general election.
But the appointment of Catholic school-educated Hinds, who has previously been an outspoken critic of the cap, had led to speculation that the plan would go ahead.
Today’s announcement is big news for the Catholic Church, which has been restricted on the number of faith free schools it has been able to open because Canon Law prevents Catholic schools from turning away pupils on the basis of their Catholic faith.
3. Government is working ‘harder than ever’ on school cost pressures
On Marr, Hinds was pressed on the impact of cost pressures faced by schools.
The new education secretary said he wanted to “pay tribute to everybody who works in our schools and does that incredible job”, but acknowledged the financial challenges.
“There are cost pressures, I do recognise that, and that’s why we’re working harder than ever with schools to help them on some of those cost pressures.”
However, Hinds also repeated the government’s previous claim, that there is “more money going into schools than ever before”.
4. More needs to be done on recruitment and retention
When asked about the teacher recruitment and retention crisis in schools, Hinds insisted that teaching is still a popular profession, but accepted that the government “needs to do more on recruitment and indeed on retention”.
“I know workload is a significant issue for teachers and I’m determined to do everything that we can on that,” he told Marr.
“It’s a great profession, I think a lot of people have that vocation, to go into teaching, and are continuing to do it. It’s still actually one of the top destinations for top graduates at university.”