Politics

Mark Lehain returns as special adviser to education secretary

Well-known free school founder reappointed 13 months after leaving post

Well-known free school founder reappointed 13 months after leaving post

23 Oct 2023, 11:18

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Mark Lehain

Former headteacher Mark Lehain has returned as special adviser to the education secretary – just over a year after leaving the post.

Lehain, who founded one of the first secondary free schools in the country, was initially appointed as a policy special adviser (SpAd) in 2021 by former education secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

He remained in-post under Michelle Donelan and James Cleverly following cabinet reshuffles, before being replaced at the beginning of Liz Truss’s stint in Number 10 last year.

He became head of education at the Centre for Policy Studies, an influential Conservative thinktank that was founded by Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph 49 years ago.

But Schools Week understands that Lehain has now been reappointed to advise Gillian Keegan.

The role has been vacant since Rory Gribbell joined the DfE as a non-political policy advisor.

Well-known in the education sector and a regular media commentator on school issues, he is a vocal proponent of traditionalist education ideologies including a knowledge-rich curriculum and strict behaviour policies.

After six years at Bedford Free School, Lehain went on to lead Parents and Teachers for Excellence, a campaign group for education reform founded by Dame Rachel de Souza, the now children’s commissioner.

This was followed by a brief period working as interim director of the New Schools Network, a government-funded charity, in 2018.

Lehain later worked for the Campaign for Common Sense, which has published research on culture war issues including gender identity and “wokeness”. 

The former school leader also contested Newcastle North for the Conservatives during the 2019 general election, losing to Labour MP Catherine McKinnell, who has held the seat since 2010.

Lehain was instrumental in the early formulation of the delayed transgender guidance for schools. He returns as the sector awaits publication of the advice.

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