NORTHERN Ireland's education minister Tony Worthington has been sacked amid protests from the United Kingdom's biggest lecturing union.
Mr Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie), a former further and higher education lecturer, was replaced by former assistant head teacher John McFall (Dumbarton) in last week's reshuffle. Mr Worthington, who was shadow education spokesman for Scotland, has returned to the backbenches.
Lecturers' union Natfhe said it was "bad news" for education and training in Northern Ireland. Regional official Jim McKeown said Mr Worthington was the most effective Northern Ireland education minister in 20 years. He said Mr Worthington had shown "real vision" in coordinating further and higher education in the province.
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said that Mr Worthington had been highly regarded by many inside and outside the department. He said that no particular reason had been given for his departure.
Meanwhile, the government has signalled a move to increase the emphasis on education in Scotland by splitting it from the industry portfolio in the reshuffle.
Scottish Office minister for education Helen Liddell took over half of Brian Wilson's old brief in the reshuffle. Mr Wilson's industry brief will be taken over by media tycoon Gus Macdonald. Macdonald is not an MP or even a Labour Party member.
A senior Scottish Office source said that Mrs Liddell, who was part of the shadow education team under the previous administration, is keen to drive forward the lifelong learning agenda, including the widening of participation in further and higher education.
The Association of University Teachers Scotland has welcomed the move and requested a meeting with Mrs Liddell. David Bleiman, AUTS assistant general secretary, said that, despite some high-profile "differences of policy", the union had enjoyed a constructive relationship with Mr Wilson.
WHO'S WHO IN EDUCATION
Department for Education and Employment
Secretary of state
* David Blunkett
Ministers of state
* Baroness Blackstone, further and higher education
* Estelle Morris, school standards (formerly Stephen Byers, now chief secretary to the Treasury)
* Andrew Smith, employment including welfare to work
* George Mudie, lifelong learning (formerly Kim Howells, now junior minister at the Depart-ment of Trade and Industry) * Margaret Hodge, employment including the New Deal (formerly Alan Howarth, now junior arts minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport)
* Charles Clarke, schools standards (formerly Estelle Morris)
KEY PEOPLE IN OTHER DEPARTMENTS
Department of Trade and Industry
* Junior science minister Lord Sainsbury (formerly John Battle, now minister of state for industry and energy, which includes responsibility for innovation)
* Minister of state for education Helen Liddell (formerly Brian Wilson, now minister of state at the DTI)
* Junior minister for education Peter Hain
Northern Ireland Office
* Junior minister for education and health John McFall (formerly Tony Worthington, now backbenches)