Earlier this month, Sajid Javid was out and about, making a substantial speech.  Next week, it’s Nadhim Zahawi’s turn in the spotlight.

I mention both men together because it’s useful to compare and contrast the two big public service delivery departments that they lead.

Nigel Lawson once described the NHS as “the closest thing the English have to a religion”, and it took centre-stage during the pandemic for obvious reasons.  Indeed, a core aim of Government policy until the vaccines arrived was to protect the service through restrictions on the public.

Almost six million people are currently on NHS waiting lists, and Labour MPs will continue to accuse Boris Johnson of privatising the service during the run-up to the next election.

There has been no consistency to recent change: the Lansley reforms stressed the competititon principle; the recent Hancock ones, which were handed on to Javid, were based on co-operation.

Above all, the state of the service and the plight of patients are set to be a central feature of the next general election’s campaign.  Now turn to education.

By contrast, no-one has ever claimed that our state schools are a national religion, and keeping them open was not a priority during Covid: indeed the opposite. The equivalent of the post-pandemic NHS queues is pupils’ loss of a third of their learning, according to one estimate.

Javid got the National Insurance rise, the contested centre of this week’s Spring Statement, and then the Health and Social Care Levy, to help meet the NHS bills at some £12 billion a year.

But education didn’t get the £15 billion recovery package that Sir Kevan Collins, the Schools Recovery Chief, advocated – so he quit.  Indeed, schools tend only to be thrust to the front of public awareness in the event of a disaster.

That recently came in the form of the great exams debacle, from which the system may take many years to recover.

Furthermore, it can be argued that universities get just as much media attention than schools, if not more so, because the media class were educated in them.  Technical education remains the poor relation that it has always been in Britain.

The brute fact is that our culture values pupils less than patients.  Which helps to explain why we’ve heard less of Zahawi than of Javid during recent months.

But though public engagement with education may be relatively low, the end of Covid nonetheless brought with it a series of demands for a new start – for schools to be radically reformed for the first time since the Gove changes of the Coalition years.

Proposals for change tend to bring three lines of thought together.  The first is that pupils had a hard time during Covid, which is indeed the case.

The second, which sometimes accompanies it, is that the Gove reforms placed too great a stress on knowledge at the expense of skills, and the full development of children.  The third, perhaps inevitably, is to recast exams.

You can get a flavour of the debate by reading first an article on this site last year by Nick Gibb – the Minister who arguably did even more than Gove to shape the current school system…

…And then a reply from our columnist, Rob Halfon, the Chair of the Education Select Committee, who is a former Education Minister himself.  Elsewhere, the education commission set up by the Times argues that the Government should “reinvent education for the digital age”.

There is plenty more where that come from.  But the striking feature of Zahawi’s tenure at the Education Department to date is the degree to which he isn’t engaging with it.

In the sense, that is, of fundamental changes to A-levels or GCSEs.  Perhaps he remembers how Gove didn’t get all the changes he wanted to the latter, having been forced off a plan to replace them with a new English Baccalaureate certificate.

At any rate, Zahawi, who once wore a musical tie in the Commons, is advertising his priorities by less flamboyant means – in this case, a badge declaring simply: “TL”.

And, no, it doesn’t stand for “Tory Leader”, as the long-running joke has it.  Rather, it stands for “T-levels”.

These mix classroom learning and workplace experience, and are described by the Government as the equivalent of A-levels.  They are its attempt to bring status and coherence to the alphabet soup of vocational qualifications.

Damian Hinds started work on them as Education Secretary and Gavin Williamson continued it.  Zahawi has inherited this Theresa May-era policy.

The Education Secretary describes “skills, schools and families” as his priorities, and he will next week unfurl policies and commitments that will in some cases require legislation (which Javid’s plans for the NHS and healthcare won’t).

The Skills and Post-Education Bill, which aims to “create more routes into skilled employment in sectors the economy needs”, has almost cleared Parliament.  Next, Zahawi will turn his attention to schools – and academisation.

David Cameron wanted all schools to become academies but failed in the attempt – frustrated by a familiar critic of radical education plans, namely Conservative councils.

Zahawi wants to go about it over a longer timetable, with good academy trusts gradually absorbing schools.  (There is a parallel with the “partnerships for reform” which Javid flagged up in his healthcare speech – see the work of the South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre.)

If the skills strand of the Education Secretary’s approach is exemplified in the Bill and the schools part in academisation, family hubs represent the families strand.

These are, in the words of the Manifesto to Strengthen Families, “local ‘one stop shops’ offering families with children and young people, aged 0-19, early help to overcome difficulties and build stronger relationships”.

They’re a familiar part of the programme of the Centre for Social Justice, and Zahawi is pushing them hard.

His most difficult challenge may be reforming Special Educational Needs and Disabilities provision.  The Government’s position is that the present system is too adversarial and too expensive – and that its expense is driven precisely by it being adversarial.

Parents will be acutely sensitive to systemic and funding changes, and any suggestion that support available to children in future may be more consticted than now.

Zahawi has worked his way to near the top of Government on the back of his performance as Vaccines Minister during the pandemic.  His room for manoeuvre is limited by the demands elsewhere on the public finance, the effects of Covid, and the timing of his appointment.

At the start of a Parliament and in the absence of crisis – first pandemic, then war – the energetic Education Secretary would have had more scope for action.

Nonetheless, the academisation plan, like Javid’s plans for health, show that some Ministers still have an appetite for reform – however curtailed their scope is by a narrowly-drawn manifesto designed to deliver Brexit, and the two emergencies that have shaped post-election politics.