Who’s in the Department for Education?

With five education secretaries in four months and a changing ministerial line up, the Department for Education has been without settled leadership since September. But it seems to have been resolved now, with the ministerial line-up confirmed by new prime minister Rishi Sunak. So what does the new Department for Education look like?

The turbulence within the Department for Education began when former prime minister Boris Johnson replaced the then-education secretary Gavin Williamson with Nadhim Zahawi. After that, following ministerial resignations and changes to the premiership, four more education secretaries were appointed. Michelle Donelan followed Zahawi and was in post two days, James Cleverly then took the position for 61 days, who was followed by Kit Malthouse, who served as education secretary for 49 days. Now Gillian Keegan is the current education secretary, and remains in post in prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government.
Alongside changes to the education secretary, the ministers in charge of education also changed. So who now makes up the Department for Education?

Gillian Keegan

Gillian Keegan is the current education secretary, having taken post on 25 October 2022.
The MP for Chichester in West Sussex was born in Leigh, Lancashire. Keegan went to primary school in Yorkshire and completed her secondary education at a comprehensive school in Knowsley, Merseyside. She started work as an apprentice at Delco Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors in Kirkby aged 16.  Whilst learning about the manufacturing industry she was sponsored to study a degree in Business Studies at Liverpool John Moores University.
In February 2020, Gillian worked at the Department for Education where she was the Minister responsible for Apprenticeships and Skills – becoming the first apprentice to serve as the Minister responsible for them.
Keegan spent many years living and working abroad in the manufacturing, banking and IT industries, most recently as chief marketing officer for Travelport, a travel technology company.

Nick Gibb

Former schools minister Nick Gibb has been reappointed as a minister for state at the Department for Education.

Nick Gibb was schools minister for nine years before being removed from his position when former prime minister Boris Johnson reshuffled the cabinet.
Gibb has had a long and influential career within the Department for Education, serving as Shadow Minister for Schools from 2005 until 2010, and as Minister of State for Schools from then until September 2012, a position he returned to in 2014 and retained.
He had significant influence on education policy, particularly around phonics and children’s reading. He is a divisive figure, with some liking his traditional methods, while more progressives do not.

His responsibilities at the DfE will include school accountability, inspection, standards, and primary assessment. His role also involves supporting a high-quality teaching profession including professional development, and supporting recruitment and retention of teachers, including initial teacher training.

Gibb's duties also cover the National Tutoring Programme, school revenue funding, including the national funding formula for schools, and pupil premium.

Robert Halfon

Robert Halfon was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Education on 26 October 2022.
He was perviously Minister of State at the Department for Education from 17 July 2016 to 12 June 2017.

The MP for Harlow is the chair of the Education Select Committee. It is his role to scrutinise government policy and lead the debate on ideas on how to improve education. The Education Committee has recently raised concerns about the lack of resources in the SEND system and funding being targeted at more costly, late-stage interventions. The Committee is urging the Government to heighten accountability for schools and councils falling short on SEND requirements and to increase support for families navigating the SEND system.

The Committee also lead an inquiry into the government’s catch up programme, and found that it risks failing pupils who need it the most, and urged the government to prove it is working.
Halfon attended the University of Exeter, where he read for a bachelor of arts degree in politics before a master of arts in Russian and East European politics.

Halfon's responsibilities at the DfE include overall strategy for post-16 technical education, T Levels and transition programme, qualifications reviews, apprenticeships and traineeships, further education workforce and funding. His role also covers technical education in specialist schools, college governance and accountability, and reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training.

Baroness Barran

Academies minister Baroness Barran has remained in post under Rishi Sunak’s government. She has survived all the recent reshuffles, meaning Gillian Keegan is the fifth education secretary she will work under this year.
Barran was appointed Minister for the School System in September 2021. Her responsibilities include academies and multi-academy trusts.
Former prime minister Liz Truss was reportedly planning to scrap the proposed schools bill, which includes introducing new academy regulations. It is unclear as to what direction Rishi Sunak will take on acadamisation plans.
Barran is chairing a review into how government works with academy trusts, to future proof the role of academies. It will look at the standards trusts are held to, and the thresholds at which the government uses its powers to intervene in rare cases of underperformance.

Barran's responsibilities at the DfE include regulatory review and overall approach to academisation, intervention in underperforming schools and school improvement, academies and multi-academy trusts, free schools, faith schools and independent schools. Her role also covers  Education Investment Area, safeguarding and home education.

Claire Coutinho

Claire Coutinho was appointed as a junior minister at the Department for Education on 27 October 2022.
She was previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions between 21 September 2022 and 27 October 2022.
The MP for East Surrey started her career at Merrill Lynch, before leaving the City for a career in social justice policy. She focused on a wide range of issues from education to financial inclusion, to the regeneration of deprived communities including at the Centre for Social Justice. She then spent two years within Government as a Special Adviser, including at HM Treasury.

She has a master’s degree in Maths and Philosophy from Oxford.

Coutinho's responsibilities include special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), including high needs funding, alternative provision, and children’s social care. It also includes child protection, adoption, care leavers, early years and childcare, mental health, online safety and preventing bullying in schools.

Sunak’s direction for education

There have not been any official announcements since prime minister Rishi Sunak has taken post. His first speech said that he will “deliver on the promise” of the Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto, promising to deliver better schools.
He reportedly wants to reform post-16 education with a new ‘British Baccalaureate’, which would require all pupils to continue to study core subjects like English and maths in sixth form.
He has also said he wants to improve professional development for teachers, and expand the use of artificial intelligence and digital technology in classrooms to reduce teacher workload.
Sunak has also said he will ask Ofsted to assess the quality of physical education in its school inspections, and that while he wants the PE and Sports Premium to continue, he wants to tighten the guidance on how it can be spent.
Sunak has also proposed that schools should open after the school day or over the summer holidays to allow local communities to use their facilities.
And what about Sunak’s own education? He attended Winchester College, before studying philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford.