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Gavin Williamson removed from education role amid reshuffle

MP says job was ​“a privilege”, as Boris Johnson replaces him with Nadhim Zahawi

Gavin Williamson has been removed from the post of education secretary, as UK prime minister Boris Johnson conducts a reshuffle of his cabinet.

Williamson is being replaced by vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.

As long-rumoured reshuffle began around midday and stretched into the evening, this official confirmation that Williamson had left the Department for Education (DfE) took some time to arrive. But Williamson, who was appointed in July 2019, preempted it with a message just after lunchtime on Twitter saying “it has been a privilege to serve as education secretary” for the past two years.

“Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, I’m particularly proud of the transformational reforms I’ve led in post-16 education: in further education colleges, our skills agenda, apprenticeships and more,” he said. “This programme will create better life opportunities for pupils and students for many years to come. I look forward to continuing to support the prime minster and the government.”

During his time as education secretary, Williamson faced criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic—particularly its impact on schools. In 2020, after initially insisting that an algorithm should be applied to ensure teacher-assessed A-level grades were accurate, he was forced to make a U-turn after that algorithm appeared to penalise disadvantaged students.

His tenure has also overseen the heavily criticised introduction of the higher education free speech bill, which is currently making its way through parliament. Elsewhere, Williamson has been a regular critic of higher education institutions on issues such as unconditional offers, grade inflation, and perceived “pockets of low quality” in the sector.

He leaves the DfE before the government publishes its official response to Philip Augar’s review of post-18 higher education and funding, which is expected on 27 October.

The positions of more junior ministers—such as universities minster Michelle Donelan and science minster Amanda Solloway—are also thought to be under review, although the reshuffle may take several days to conclude.