SNP leadership: Why John Swinney should keep Jenny Gilruth as education secretary in Cabinet reshuffle

Last thing the sector needs is further change at the top

One of John Swinney’s first jobs when he is almost certainly confirmed as the seventh first minister of Scotland will be to assemble his top team.

It seems certain Kate Forbes will be handed a key job, with a significant reshuffle on the cards. Mr Swinney, however, would be best advised to avoid changing his Cabinet secretary for education and skills.

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That is not to say that Jenny Gilruth’s performance in the post has made her untouchable.

The former teacher has her critics, including those who feel she has not properly dealt with issues such as violence in schools, and others who criticise the lack of progress on education reform. However, Ms Gilruth has spent much of the last year working on both of those issues, among many others.

Shortly after her appointment in spring last year, she paused legislation on replacing the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland, and delayed a decision on the recommendations made in various reports on the future of Scottish education, including in the Hayward review.

She said she wanted to “knit together a narrative linking” the “plethora of different reports”, which had been commissioned by her predecessors.

Ms Gilruth is now on the brink of unveiling that narrative and announcing how she plans to proceed. Meanwhile, a long overdue action plan on addressing school violence is also said to be imminent.

Any change in education secretary at this stage would create further uncertainty for a sector that badly needs those in power to settle on a way forward. A new Cabinet secretary would want to review these significant pieces of work.

They might not make changes, but they would never have the ownership of the policies in the same way as Ms Gilruth. As a former education secretary himself, Mr Swinney will no doubt take a close interest in the brief. It is unlikely he would seek to dramatically demote Ms Gilruth, given she is considered a rising star in the party and she has previously worked closely with him, not to mention the fact she quickly backed Mr Swinney for the top job.

The prospective new SNP leader should also resist moving her sideways to a different role.

For now, anyway, Ms Gilruth should be given the chance to finally outline her vision for Scottish education, and to start turning it into a reality.



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