The new education secretary Nadhim Zahawi today extended an olive branch to the education sector, pledging to “work with” staff to beat Covid and “transform the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged”.
In a blog post published this evening, Zahawi thanked education staff for the “outstanding job you have done during these challenging times”, and pledged to “work with you to spread the opportunity of excellent education”.
Zahawi has struck a conciliatory tone since taking over from Gavin Williamson, who was the first minister to be sacked yesterday in Boris Johnson’s reshuffle.
The relationship between government and schools had soured during the Covid-19 pandemic after repeated blunders over school closures, exams, recovery funding and free school meals.
Zahawi said it was “such an honour to have been appointed education secretary, and such a great privilege to work with you – the carers, early years practitioners, teachers, support staff, lecturers and social workers working in, and with, our nurseries, schools, colleges and universities”.
Zahawi: ‘My teachers never gave up on me’
He said he knew “profoundly, and at first hand” how important the work of education staff his, having coming to the UK aged nine from Iraq when his family fled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“My English was poor, and I hid in the back of classrooms to escape the gaze of teachers. I might have become a forgotten child, with opportunities closed off.
“But my teachers never gave up on me. They challenged me to do better, and supported me along the way, so that I was able to make the best of the opportunities in front of me. I owe them a debt of gratitude; and I owe other children my unfailing effort to provide the same chances that I had to grow, and to flourish.”
He said he would “pursue and support excellence for every child and every learner”, meaning both “academic excellence and skills that lead to brilliant jobs and the “surrounding support and care that allow every child to take advantage of those opportunities and make the most of them”.
Ed sec pledges to ‘invest in’ schools
“I will listen to you and work with you to make sure we do right by children and learners. And, with you, I will also listen to children, families, young people and adult learners so that we can spread opportunity far and wide.”
He also pledged to “invest in and keep strengthening our nurseries and schools, the foundation stone of everyone’s opportunities in life”.
“With your help we are going to transform the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including those with special educational needs and disabilities and in care… and ensure those who have lost the most from the pandemic can recover and flourish, and that prosperity benefits all.
“It is a mission I am proud to set out on; and one I know will not succeed unless we can work together. Together, we will beat Covid, while building back better and fairer.”
He pledged to “meet as many of you as possible” in the coming months so they can “unlock the potential of the national together”.