Nicky Morgan came to parliament today to praise Michael Gove, not to bury him: ‘It is a privilege,’ she said, ‘to follow him in this role.’
Her first outing as Education Secretary was an unqualified success. She plodded amiably where Michael Gove had dazzled; but, nonetheless, she was effective.
The Opposition launched a well-orchestrated attack on the issue of childcare costs and availability. Morgan repelled it with ease using a selection of statistics, studies and policy initiatives. She also sought to empathise with working parents. In response to a question about the availability of childcare from Labour’s Jamie Reed, Morgan said: ‘As a working parent, I sympathise’, and she went on to mount a defence of the government’s policy in this area, citing evidence that there are 100,000 more childcare places available than there were in 2009.
But it was not all softly, softly from the new Secretary of State. There was no retreat on policy. Morgan made clear – and then reiterated – her ‘commitment to free schools’. And she had a little fun at Tristram Hunt’s expense: ‘I am not going take lessons… oh wait, he does give lessons, as an unqualified teacher.’ Clearly some of the old fires at the Department for Education still burn.
Morgan will have another outing tomorrow, when she will respond formally to the reports into the ‘Birmingham Trojan Horse’ saga. That will provide a sterner test than today’s rather gentle start.