Downing Street has announced that Michelle Donelan is the new education secretary, after her predecessor and former boss Nadhim Zahawi was promoted to be the chancellor.
Here’s what we know about her…
- Born in 1984, Donelan is 38 years old, making her the second youngest person to hold the role. The youngest was Ruth Kelly, who was 36 when she was appointed in 2004.
- Donelan is the MP for Chippenham in Wiltshire. She is the first MP elected in 2015 to hold the role of education secretary. Her predecessors Zahawi, Gavin Williamson and Damian Hinds were all first elected in 2010, as was Nicky Morgan, while Justine Greening and Michael Gove were first elected in 2005.
- She is the third education secretary to serve this academic year, after Williamson and Zahawi. Her predecessor was the shortest-serving education secretary, with nine months under his belt, since Patrick Walker, who served for just seven in the late-1960s.
- Donelan was born in Cheshire, but is far from the first education secretary to hail from the north west. Other ed secs from that neck of the woods include Estelle Morris, George Tomlinson and Ellen Wilkinson.
- She was educated at the comprehensive County High School in Leftwich, which is now an academy. But she isn’t the first education secretary to be educated at a comprehensive school. Greening claimed that prize fairly recently, in 2016.
- The new education secretary has spoken out in opposition to grammar schools, asking in 2016 how proposals to allow more selective schools would “prevent those who do not make the grade from being stigmatised and disincentivised”.
- Donelan studied history and politics at the University of York, before going into a career in marketing. She worked at Marie Claire magazine and for World Wrestling Entertainment. The latter, she says, proves “a bit too popular” in school democracy clubs she runs in her area.
- She has been interested in politics from a young age, reportedly saying she has wanted to be a politician since she was six years old. She spoke at the Conservative Party conference in 1999, at the age of 15.
- The MP has already served in a number of roles at the Department for Education. She was acting children’s minister providing maternity cover from 2019 to 2020, then served as universities minister until 2021, when she became minister for higher and further education, also attending cabinet. Donelan also served on the education select committee from 2017 to 2019.
- As universities minister, Donelan has championed the issue of free speech and “academic freedom” on campus, recently urging universities to reconsider their membership of a race equality charter, and complained of “professors being harangued and hounded out of their jobs”.
- In her maiden speech, the new education secretary spoke about social mobility, and has said she was the first in her family to “finish university”. She also uses the phrase “opportunities for all” on her website, very similar to the name of the recent schools white paper, which it is now her job to champion.