Gillian Keegan recently secured her first Cabinet position after she was appointed Education Secretary by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
She is the fifth person to serve in the role in four months, the sixth in 14 months and the 10th since the Conservatives first came to power in 2010.
Relatively new to the House of Commons, Keegan first became MP for Chichester in 2017. Since then, she has held a fair few roles in government - including parliamentary under-secretary for apprenticeships and skills as well as care and mental health minister under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. She was then made parliamentary under-secretary for Africa by his successor Liz Truss.
Her new job, Education Secretary, is one many would say is more catered to expertise, as Keegan has long been vocal about educational rights in the UK. Her appointment also marks a milestone for the Tories, as she is the first person to hold the role having left school at 16 since Labour’s Alan Johnson. He was in post between 2006 and 2007.
So what is there to know about the new Education Secretary? Here are some key facts - and the people who held the role before her.
Who is Gillian Keegan?
Keegan, 56, is the MP for Chichester. She was appointed Education Secretary on 25 October 2022.
As Chancellor Jeremy Hunt mentioned during his autumn statement announcement today (17 November), she left school at the age of 16 to become an apprentice.
She worked at Delco Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors in Kirkby, Merseyside, and was then sponsored to study a degree in business at Liverpool John Moores University. She subsequently went on to do a Sloan Fellowship master’s degree at London Business School.
Before entering politics, Keegan worked in the manufacturing, banking and IT industries, and was most recently chief marketing officer for Travelport. Once she entered the political sphere, she worked as parliamentary under-secretary for apprenticeships and skills and as care and mental health minister for former Prime Minister Johnson.
She lives in West Sussex with her husband, Michael, and has two stepsons.
What are her political views?
The topic which Keegan has spoken out about the most since becoming a politician is education, fittingly.
In 2019, she criticised the government for “playing catch-up” on mental health services for children, arguing that schools played a “vital role” in offering support and acknowledging “the signs when people need help”.
Keegan, who has a nephew with Down’s syndrome, has also stressed that funding for children with special education needs and disabilities is an issue “close to her heart”. In 2020, she warned the government that special schools in her district were experiencing overcrowding, saying that they required "financial investment to expand”.
The Chichester MP has also voiced her support for the government’s Levelling Up agenda. She spoke to the BBC about growing up attending a failing comprehensive school in Knowsley, Merseyside, which was closed down soon after she left. She explained that 92% of the children there failed to get enough O-Levels to progress in education (although she managed to get ten).
“Most people did not get any, or one or two at best,” Keegan commented. “People say about levelling up; about recognising that talent is everywhere but opportunity isn’t. I lived that and I thoroughly and fully believe it.”
Keegan has also spoken publicly about her opinions on trade unions - which are less positive. She told the BBC that when she was working in a car factory, there were a lot of strikes. “The union guy used to come and see me on a weekly basis and try to strong-arm me into joining, and I didn’t like the style of that,” she recalled. “It just seemed wrong so I never joined, which was unusual.” She added that she thought strikes had taken place over issues she felt were “artificial”.
Has she been involved in any controversies?
In August 2020, Keegan was criticised for being on holiday during the GCSE and A-level grading controversy. Due to the pandemic, students were graded on their teachers’ predictions and some of the results sparked a public outcry. She was minister for skills and apprenticeships at the time.
The MP also made headlines during the pandemic when a journalist on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme asked her a specific question about social distancing rules and she responded with “I don’t know.”
Who else has been Education Secretary in 2022?
Keegan succeeded Kit Malthouse, who left his role before Sunak could make any announcements about his Cabinet. Before Malthouse, there was James Cleverly, who is now Foreign Secretary, and before him, Michelle Donelan, who quit after just 36 hours in the role amidst the series of Cabinet resignations which came at the end of Johnson’s premiership.
Donelan had succeeded Nadhim Zahawi, whose predecessor was Gavin Williamson. Williamson was sacked from the role by Johnson in September 2021, and recently had to resign as Minister of State Without Portfolio after becoming embroiled in a bullying scandal.