The former children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi has been appointed education secretary in Boris Johnson’s reshuffle.
He replaces Gavin Williamson, who was sacked earlier today.
It will be Zahawi’s second stint at the Department for Education. The MP for Stratford-upon-Avon was children’s minister from January 2018 to July 2019.
He is believed to be the first ever non-white education secretary.
The move is seen as a reward for Zahawi’s role overseeing the roll-out of Covid jabs as the government’s vaccines minister.
During his time as children’s minister, Zahawi commissioned further research into the issue of holiday hunger, which led to the wider rollout of the government’s holiday activities and food programme.
He was also highly critical of the practice of off-rolling, vowing in a Schools Week interview to take action against any school found to be doing it. Zahawi will now preside over the continued implementation of the Timpson review of exclusions, which has been slow since its publication in 2019.
But he was criticised when, while a business minister, he falsely claimed that research showed parents “actually prefer to pay a modest sum” of “£1 or £2”, instead of receiving free school meals.
In 2018, he was reportedly “dressed down” by a government whip for attending the Presidents Club charity dinner, after the event was rocked by sexual harassment allegations. Zahawi kept his job at the time but David Meller, the co-chair of the event, resigned from the DfE’s board in the aftermath.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Zahawi was privately educated at King’s College School, in Wimbledon.
He co-founded the well-known research firm YouGov, where he was chief executive until 2010. He was also chief strategy officer for Gulf Keystone Petroleum until 2018.
DfE permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood tweeted she and colleagues “look forward” to working with Zahawi to “help children and learners of all ages to realise their potential”.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said Zahawi now has the “crucial task of translating the government’s rhetoric on education into reality”. Boris Johnson had said education was his “biggest priority”.
Whiteman added one of the most pressing issues is government fulfilling promises on a “properly funded recovery package so that every pupil in the country receives the support they need and deserve.
“With the comprehensive spending review only weeks away, there really is no time to waste.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said the department “may now be under new management but the same challenges remain.
“More ambition is needed on post-Covid education recovery, investment in schools and colleges, support for children with special educational needs, and closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.”