Gavin Williamson appointed as education secretary

Gavin Williamson, the former defence secretary, has been appointed as the new education secretary.

Downing Street made the announcement tonight as part of a wide-ranging reshuffle of his top team.

Damian Hinds, the previous education secretary, confirmed on Twitter earlier this evening that he is returning to the backbenches.

Williamson has been the MP for South Staffordshire since 2010. He served as Theresa May’s chief whip from July 2016 until he was promoted to defence secretary in November 2017.

He was sacked in May this year following allegations he leaked confidential information, allegations he denies.

Williamson was educated at a comprehensive school and the University of Bradford.

The new education secretary is already facing calls to address the recruitment and retention crisis and school funding issues.

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said Williamson “must hit the ground running”, adding that his predecessors had “failed to make any serious progress on these issues”.

“We need to recruit 15,593 new teachers in the next three years, but teacher recruitment and retention problems are serious and getting worse,” said Courtney.

“Schools and colleges are still facing the effects of huge funding cuts, teachers and support staff are losing their jobs, and class sizes are rising.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said Williamson’s top three priorities should be an “immediate multi-billion-pound emergency investment in schools and colleges”, a 5 per cent pay increase for all staff and “clear backing for all schools regarding diversity and equality”.

“By our calculations, £3 billion of new money from the Treasury is needed right away to prevent any more of the damaging cuts to staffing, facilities and subjects that have been made,” said Whiteman, who added that the recent 2.75 per cent pay award was “a missed opportunity to begin to solve the staffing crisis”.

Williamson’s voting record on LGBT rights has also already led to concerns about his ability to support schools in the face of a bitter dispute over moves to teach children about same-sex relationships.

According to Parliamentary analysis website TheyWorkForYou, Williamson has “almost always” voted against equal gay rights, and “generally” voted against allowing marriage between two people of the same sex.

Whiteman said learning about equality and diversity “is not optional”, and said school staff discharging their duty “have an absolute right to feel confident and safe”.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of ASCL, agreed that Williamson “must now address the funding crisis in our schools and colleges”.

“The government has ducked this issue for far too long and its negligence in this regard has brought the education system to its knees.”

Schools are waiting to hear full details of Boris Johnson’s school funding plans. The new prime minister has previously pledged an extra £4.6 billion a year for schools by 2022, but it is not clear how much will be forthcoming in the near future.