Election 2024

Who is Bridget Phillipson? 8 facts about the new education secretary

What we know about the minister handed the keys to the Department for Education

What we know about the minister handed the keys to the Department for Education

Bridget Phillipson

Bridget Phillipson has been appointed as education secretary in Sir Keir Starmer’s first Labour cabinet.

The move was widely expected – the MP for Houghton and Sunderland South has been her party’s education lead since 2021.

Here’s what we know about her

She was born in Gateshead in 1983. At 40, she is one of the youngest people to have held the role, but not the youngest. Ruth Kelly was 36 when she was appointed in 2004. Michelle Donelan was 38 when she was appointed – for just 35 hours – during the political crisis in 2022.

Phillipson has been an MP since 2010. She was elected to represent Houghton and Sunderland South. She is the first MP representing a north east constituency to be education secretary since Edward Short, who served under Harold Wilson in the late 1960s.

She was appointed as shadow education secretary in November 2021, replacing Kate Green. Before that she served as shadow chief secretary to the treasury. She had previously served on the back benches for the first decade of her Parliamentary career.

Phillipson was comprehensively educated. This is fairly unusual for education secretaries throughout the history of the role, although it has become more common in recent years. Justine Greening was the first education secretary to be fully educated in the state comprehensive system when she was appointed in 2016.

She is Oxbridge-educated. Phillipson read modern history at Hertford College, Oxford, graduating in 2005. Attending an Oxbridge university is also not unusual among education secretaries. Damian Hinds, Nicky Morgan and Ed Balls are among the other postholders from the past 20 years to have attended Oxford or Cambridge.

Politics is in her blood. Phillipson has spoken about how she attended Labour meetings as a child with her mother, Claire, a party official. After graduation, she went on to work in local government and then for the charity Wearside Women in Need, which her mother founded.

Phillipson was on free school meals as a pupil. She grew up in a council house, and has said how her own experience in education shaped her vision for the sector. She wrote in the Guardian earlier this year that “the brilliant state education I received set me up for life and led the shy, quiet girl with the long plaits in the corner of the classroom to where I am today”.

The new education secretary made childcare, rather than schools policy, an early priority while she was in opposition. But she has also spoken of the need to address serious issues in schools, such as crumbling school buildings and the SEND crisis.

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  1. Recruiting more teachers is a good step but it’s sticking plaster stuff.
    Education needs a complete transformation to deal with the circumstances we face. This calls for a clear new strategy from government and a change to content of syllabi for child/young adult development. We need a transformation in the goal of education rather than the tinkering we have had over many years.
    The dreadful reality that we have produced a generation which includes 12-year-old machete murderers. We have other phenomena of great concern:
    • Prevalence of in sexual assault in schools and colleges. An Ofsted review (2021) revealed “how prevalent sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are for children and young people. It is concerning that for some children, incidents are so commonplace that they see no point in reporting them”.
    • Teenage knife crime causing injuries and deaths.
    • Mobile phone misuse e.g., bullying and trolling on-line
    • littering of the local environment
    While education is not responsible for such outcomes it must contribute in ways to change the attitudes which underly these unacceptable behaviours, rather than to deal with outcomes afterwards. The irresponsibility shown in these behaviours can be carried on, by some, into adult life, for example by needle spiking with drugs in clubs/music festivals, use of the mobile phone for up-skirting photography, grooming children for sex, and fly-tipping.
    I urge therefore for a change in our national learning goal from what seems to be life-long learning to one of learning for living.
    My background includes mililary service (25 years), 30 years with OU, systems thinking specialist, with special interest in how we might create a ‘better future for more’. I used Covid to consolidate my experience and learning to offer a strategy to do this along with a practical methodology to begin and sustain a journey on such a pathway. This is now available as a free downloadable book on the internet archive.
    This suggests key markers for action including:
    • what systems thinking means and what syllabus might include
    • the need for joint student projects within programmes, with other learners they do not know well. The aim is to demonstrate to the young that there may be sometimes in life when cooperating with others will be better than always insisting on one’s own perceived rights.
    • developing internet wisdom.
    Gordon Dyer
    • ORCID [0009-0006-7691-3115]
    • archive.org/details/safeguarding-our-future
    • gdyer.org.uk/systemsresearch/index.htm