New government picture for cultural learning

14 October 2021

September’s government reshuffle gave us a brand-new set of ministers for both education and culture.

It will be very important for these MPs to get to grips with their new briefs quickly, as the final negotiations in the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), in which the Chancellor will set the budget for each department for the next three years, are currently taking place. In this post we give you an update on who’s who and an indication of what they are likely to be focussed on.

New Secretaries of State and their Ministers


Nadhim Zahawi was appointed Secretary of State for Education, replacing Gavin Williamson in overseeing all education policy from early years to higher education. He has worked in the Department before – as Minister for Children and Families in 2018, and more recently as Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment.

Zahawi made his first major speech setting out his vision for children and young people at the National Association of Head Teachers Conference on 9 October, and we were heartened to see a focus on early years and home learning environments, on wellbeing for children, and on teacher training and the workforce. We were also encouraged to see recognition that more needs to be done to support disabled and SEND young people. The Secretary of State also made it clear that the Department would be focussing relentlessly on literacy and numeracy and on the roll-out of T-Levels. There was no mention of any further Covid-19 recovery initiatives beyond the tutoring programme that has already been announced.

It is important to note that the Department of Education are currently making representations to government as part of the CSR, and we are asking them to ensure that the £5.2 million for cultural education initiatives, the £79 million for Music Hubs and the £90 million per year for the Arts Premium for Schools (as promised in the Conservative Manifesto) are confirmed in the budget. All will be important for the life-chances and social mobility of young people, and our collective recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

Other announcements made by the Department this month have included:

  • Primary school children across the United Kingdom will receive a book that celebrates the achievements of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth over the last 70 years.

Further ministerial team in the DfE

  • Robin Walker, MP for Worcester, will become the new Minister for School Standards, taking over from the very long-standing Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, and taking on a wide-ranging brief that encompasses qualifications, curriculum, standards and testing, and teacher training and professional development.
  • The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan, MP for Chippenham, is our new Minister of State for Higher and Further Education and will oversee post-16 education strategy, universities, and life-long learning.
  • Baroness Barran MBE moves across from DCMS (where she was Minister for Civil Society) to be appointed Minister for the School System – which includes free school and academic policy and capital investment.
  • Alex Burghart, MP for Brentwood and Ongar, is the new Minister for Skills, which includes oversight of T-levels, apprenticeships and careers.
  • Will Quince, MP for Colchester, is our Minister for Children and Families, holding the brief for social care, SEND, early years and children’s mental health

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Nadine Dorries replaces the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP in the role of Secretary of State, overseeing Overall Departmental Strategy, Covid-19, and Appointments and honours.

Nadine began her career as a nurse, then went on to set up her own business and later became a director at BUPA. She is also a published author.

Dorries made several speeches at the Conservative Party conference last week, including a filmed interview for Chopper’s Politics, with Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent and Assistant Editor for The Daily Telegraph. In this interview she sets out some of her initial priorities, which include:

  • social mobility and equity of opportunity for young people – particularly looking at class as a protected characteristic, the BBC’s mid-term Charter Review, and focussing on the talent pipeline for children and young people
  • rebalancing funding and resources across the whole country and London
  • broadband infrastructure and the Online Harms Bill

Again, it is important to note that the Department will be negotiating for the allocation to its Arms-Length Bodies as part of the CSR, and this includes the funding for Arts Council England to deliver against its Let’s Create strategic ambitions. It is essential that the Arts Council’s funding allocation is maintained in line with inflation in order for this to happen, and for the stability enabled by the emergency Cultural Recovery Fund to be translated into outcomes for communities. The DCMS also oversees the Youth brief (held by Nigel Huddlestone MP as below), and we join our partners from the sector in calling on the government to ensure that the £500 million promised investment into Youth Provision is honoured in this Review.

Further ministerial team in the DCMS

  • Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, Lord in Waiting and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, is our new Minister for Arts and will oversee Arts and Museums and ceremonials, as well as DCMS business in the Lords.
  • Julia Lopez, MP for Hornchurch and Upminster, has been appointed Minister of State for Media, Data, and Digital Infrastructure and will have brief that includes the Creative Industries.
  • Nigel Huddlestone, MP for Mid Worcestershire, will be our new Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society, which includes the Youth brief.
  • Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South, is our new Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy.

Levelling Up, Communities and Housing

Michael Gove has held a wide range of political offices, including Secretary of State for Education (2010-2014), and his most recent post as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (July 2019 to September 2021). Before his political career he worked as a journalist.

It is worth noting the Departmental name change here from ‘Local Government’ to ‘Levelling Up’. The term ‘Levelling Up’ has been used by the Conservative government for a number of years, and in his speech on 4 October at the conference, Gove set out four key pillars that this policy would be focussed upon:

  • strengthening local leadership 
  • raising living standards  
  • improving public services 
  • enhancing people’s pride of place

These were echoed by Neil O’Brien MP (Minister for Levelling Up, the Union and Constitution). Policy Exchange has written a piece detailing ‘10 things they learned about Levelling Up’ at the conference. There are a number of notable issues for cultural learning in this article:

  • part of the placemaking aspect of ‘Levelling Up’ will be about how a community looks and feels – something that culture is integral to
  • the ambition is for education policy to be explicitly linked to the Levelling Up agenda
  • the value and importance of studying the arts and humanities to a wide range of careers needs to be articulated strongly by the sector

We look forward to updating our members further after the Comprehensive Spending Review on 27 October, and as ministers settle into their new roles.