Minister behind phonics check and harder Sats keeps role at DfE

Mr Gibb stays on in DfE despite boss being sacked

Nick Gibb – the man thought to be the driving force behind the government roll out of the phonics screening test and tougher exams – has been spared his job at the Department for Education during new prime minister Theresa May’s drastic Cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Gibb, who is serving his second tenure as a junior minister in the Department for Education, has often been regarded as the former education secretary Michael Gove’s right hand man.

But despite his boss Nicky Morgan being sacked and his closeness to Mr Gove, the MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has kept his role.

The minister’s new responsibilities will include: teachers and school leaders; curriculum, assessment and qualifications; school accountability (including links with Ofsted); dealing with school underperformance and improving school-to-school support; school admissions, exclusions, attendance, behaviour and alternative provision.

Meanwhile, Sam Gyimah, the minister responsible for introducing a new national funding formula for schools, has been moved to the Ministry of Justice.

If Mr Gibb’s takes over some of Mr Gyimah’s former brief, his existing responsibilities will be extended to include the national funding formula and childcare.

Critics have often commented that Mr Gibb has taken to his brief bringing back “rigour” into the education system with a near-religious zeal.

News that he has kept his job will be perhaps most lamented by critics of the hugely controversial phonics screening test to assess pupils’ reading skills.

Already, his announcement on Twitter that he will be staying at the DfE – complete with the hashtag “phonics” – has been greeted with comments such as this:

@NickGibbMP whoever reappointed you is definitely not on the right bus? What do you actual do besides ruin children’s education?

— Carl Betteridge (@Nobby0101) 17 July 2016

Mr Gibb has also played a large role in the new, tougher primary assessments at key stage 1 and 2. The tests, particularly the spelling, punctuation and grammar assessment, made headlines for requiring seven year olds to know what a fronted adverbial was.

The politician came unstuck himself on Radio 4’s World at One, when he failed to differentiate between a preposition and a subordinating conjunction.

He has often provoked criticism from teaching unions for suggesting that there had never been a better time to be a teacher, despite their claims of poorer pay and conditions, increased workload and low retention rates.

He is a strong advocate of teaching practices from east Asia, particularly Shanghai and Singapore and as recently as this week announced £41m additional funding for Shanghai-style maths teaching.

Mr Gibb will be joined at the DfE by Right Hon Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow. Mr Halfon’s voting record shows that he has voted against equal rights for gay people, including same-sex marriage. He has consistently voted in favour of increased autonomy for schools, academies and raising university tuition fees.

Edward Timpson, MP for Crewe and Nantwich, will remain the minister in charge of children and families.

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