The government of Theresa May, after only being in power for a year and a half, is starting to look a bit long in the tooth, and in order to shake things up the Prime Minister shuffled her cabinet earlier this week.

The change most strongly felt by organisations in the FE sector is the resignation of the Education Secretary, Justine Greening. Though the reasons were unclear, rumours swirled that she refused a lateral transfer by the Prime Minister. It is also surmised that Greening opposition to the government’s proposed reintroduction of grammar schools was also a factor.

Greening’s tenure at the Department of Education has been comparatively short to other education secretaries. Why this was the case is uncertain but it has been suggested that Greening’s resignation came about because of her opposition to the Prime Minister’s grammar school plans.

Greening was unique in the Conservative front benches. She was a remnant of the image overhaul of the Conserative Party by David Cameron, where the party attempted to project a more progressive and inclusive image. Under Theresa May, her voice was often refreshingly sensible and even-headed in contrast to others after the Brexit referendum.

But the main thing that made Greening a great fit in her post was her unfailing commitment to education, namely technical education, further education and social mobility. There are myriad economic and educational issues facing the UK at the moment, from inequality to the skills gap to sluggish productivity. It was important to have a minister in the education brief that would attempt to address all these problems.

Greening was not exactly a flashy or showy minister. She was technocratic, detail-focused and nose-to-the-grindstone practical. In a department that can all too often act as a blank slate on which ministers put their ideological stamps (see: Michael Gove) the department under Greening simultaneously rolled out much-needed programs while attempting to maintain stability to let teachers, schools, colleges and universities get on with the job of educating.

TQUK wants learners of all kinds to receive qualifications that will lead them on to brighter futures. Whatever your political leaning, Greening was fully dedicated to raising the profile of technical and further education to parity with university education and making sure the UK had a world-class skills base on which to build their future.

Even more important, though, was her dedication to social mobility. On her resignation, Greening tweeted: ‘social mobility matters to me & our country more than my ministerial career. I'll continue to do everything I can to create a country that has equality of opportunity for young people.’ The main engine driving social mobility has always been education. Greening seemed to understand that and acted accordingly in her brief.

Greening was instrumental in rolling T-Levels, degree apprenticeships and the Apprenticeship Levy. All three new programs were introduced probably as well as they could have been, given their radical nature. At the recent Skills Summit in London in 2017, while announcing the beginning of the T-Level consultation, she urged business leaders to work with government to support a new ‘skills revolution’, reemphasising the commitment to ensuring the UK gets the highly-skilled workforce it will need in the future.

The newly appointed education secretary, Damien Hinds, is untested in such a high profile role, though his record seems to be encouraging for those who hope he will continue Greening’s approach of emphasising technical education, FE, social mobility and stability.

The FE sector in the moment is still recovering from a period of massive flux. What made Greening valuable was her steady hand and her support. Hopefully, we get more of this in the future.

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