Gillian Keegan, our new education secretary

Rishi Sunak is our new PM, and today the Times claimed he has an ambitious policy drive for education including a “British baccalaureate” and a network of  technical institutes for vocational training. He is not noted for having much interest in education, however his ‘about me’ page claims, ‘I have been a school governor, a board member of a large youth club, and have always volunteered my time to education programmes that spread opportunity.’ He was governor of the East London Science School, a non-selective secondary free school from 2013 to 2015.

In the leadership campaign in the summer Sunak answered, ‘yes’ when asked if he would ‘bring back’ grammar schools. However his campaign team quickly corrected the record and informed the media that he meant he supported expansion in selective areas, but not new grammar schools. Possibly the new grammar comment was designed to appeal to the right-wing Tory membership?

He has appointed Gillian Keegan as the new education secretary, replacing Kit Malthouse. Keegan is the fifth education secretary in four months, so perhaps it is helpful that she has some DfE experience as a junior minister for apprenticeships and skills between 2020 and 2021. It is not yet clear whether pro-grammar ministers Jonathan Gullis and Kelly Tolhurst will keep their jobs, but Nick Gibb will be returning to an education brief, along with chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon. 

Keegan appears not to have given a public view on academic selection, she attended a comprehensive school in Knowsley, Merseyside leaving at 16 and taking an apprenticeship, she studied for a business degree and masters later in life. There are no grammar schools in her Chichester constituency.

In an interview in 2020 Keegan revealed that she  “loved school” and said, “I’ve done many things with many of the world’s brightest people. But all the people I met at that Knowsley comprehensive school were as bright as anyone I’ve ever met since. We would be classed as people who would have to go down a vocational route, because they weren’t bright. But we were bright. We just didn’t get the opportunity to show we were bright.”

In a TES interview in the same year she said, “Sometimes your first experience with education doesn’t give you the result that fits you in your life – that doesn’t mean you are not capable. Quite the opposite, in my experience.”

These quotes might suggest opposition to the sort of education that writes off 10 year olds with a one off test. However, at present we know little about Sunak’s government’s plans, and we will keep a close watch on developments.