Comparing Secretaries

With mutterings about Cabinet reshuffles I was interested to see Rachel Reeves mentioned as a potential Shadow Education Secretary (though word on the street is that this is now unlikely). Reeves is great, but she’s still quite young. If she became Shadow Sec, and Labour won in 2015, and she remained in post – she would be the youngest ever Edu Sec.

That is not necessarily a problem. Both Rab Butler & Edward Boyle were in their 30s when they took the role and are regularly named as being among ‘the greats’. However, Ruth Kelly’s disasterous turn at the helm has since made people nervous of youth.

Fun Facts!

Mean age on entry – 50 

There is also most no difference between the parties. Labour average age on entry is 50.5, Conservative is 49.5.

The youngest EduSec is Ruth Kelly, who started age 36

The oldest was Keith Joseph, who began when he was 63

Age on Entry

Ruth Kelly 36
Rab Butler 38
Edward Boyle 39
Edward Balls 40
Michael Gove 42
Richard Law 44
Margaret Thatcher 44
Anthony Crosland 46
Shirley Williams 46
John Patten 46
Estelle Morris 48
Quintin Hogg 49
Mark Carlisle 49
David Blunkett 49
David Eccles 50
Reg Prentice 50
Kenneth Clarke 50
Kenneth Baker 51
John MacGregor 52
Charles Clarke 52
Ellen Wilkinson 54
Gillian Shephard 54
Geoffrey Lloyd 55
Edward Short 55
Alan Johnson 55
George Tomlinso 56
Fred Mulley 56
Michael Stewart 57
Patrick Gordon Walker 60
Florence Horsbrugh 62
Keith Joseph 63

Speculation is rife about a September Cabinet re-shuffle. If Gove leaves education, where might he go next?

Using the scientific medium of Wikipedia, it seems 12 of the 31 Ed Secs never transitioned to other roles (though many continued as MPs or Peers).

Since the early 90s, Home Secretary became a popular move. Not only have three Ed Secs in the past 25 years moved straight into this role, Alan Johnson also made it there after Health and Ed Balls took position as Shadow Home Secretary before becoming Shadow Chancellor (though admittedly that was only for 3 months).

Women seem to have done particularly poorly in moves, with only Ruth Kelly keeping a Ministerial position while still in power. However Margaret Thatcher did move from being Ed Sec to being Leader of the Conservative Party, which turned out to be a very important move indeed!

Subsequent roles taken by Ed Secs…..

1 Rab Butler Chancellor of the Exchequer
2 Richard Law
3 Ellen Wilkinson
4 George Tomlinson  
5 Florence Horsbrugh
6 Geoffrey Lloyd
7 David Eccles (1st time) President of the Board of Trade(2nd time) Paymaster General & Minister for the Arts
8 Edward Boyle
9 Quintin Hogg Lord President of the Council
10 Michael Stewart Secretary of State for Economic Affairs
11 Anthony Crosland Secretary of State for Local Government & Regional Planning
12 Patrick Gordon Walker
13 Edward Short Leader of the House of Commons/Lord President of the Council
14 Margaret Thatcher Leader of the Conservative Party
15 Reg Prentice Minister of State for Overseas Development
16 Fred Mulley Secretary of State for Defence
17 Shirley Williams
18 Mark Carlisle
19 Keith Joseph
20 Kenneth Baker Chairman of the Conservative Party
21 John MacGregor Leader of the House of Commons/Lord President of the Council
22 Kenneth Clarke Home Secretary
23 John Patten
24 Gillian Shephard Shadow Secretary of State for Education
25 David Blunkett Home Secretary
26 Estelle Morris
27 Charles Clarke Home Secretary
28 Ruth Kelly Minister for Women
29 Alan Johnson Secretary of State for Health
30 Edward Balls Shadow Secretary of State for Education
31 Michael Gove ??

After the recent post “Where did the Education Secretaries go to school?” several people asked whether it really mattered. One answer that came up several times was that it might be relevant if a Minister never used the service in their care.

But if an Ed Sec who doesn’t use service will inevitably do a less good job, then it matters whether or not the Ed Sec has children themselves. I therefore decided to work out which Ed Secs had children and which did not.

It was easier to find out this information for dead Ed Secs than live ones. Obituaries always have a section telling you about people’s partners and children. However, I managed to find information for all but two. I couldn’t find definite information on Geoffrey Lloyd or John MacGregor. Also, while I could find out that Richard Law had at least one child, I don’t know if he only had one.

There’s also the issue of stepchildren. Anthony Crosland, Gillian Shephard and Shirley Williams each have two stepchildren by marriage. For the purposes of this chart I haven’t included them because I wasn’t able to distinguish how much contact they had with the children.

As it stands the average number of children among Ed Secs is 1.79. If stepchildren are added it is 2.

The most common number is actually 0. Although this is largely down to the high number of childless secretaries pre-1965. Since 1967 there have only been two childless education secretaries, and none at all between 1967 and 1994.

0 Ellen Wilkinson 1945
George Tomlinson 1947
Florence Horsbrugh 1951
Edward Boyle 1962
Michael Stewart 1964
Anthony Crosland 1965
Gillian Shephard 1994
Estelle Morris 2001
1 Richard Law 1945
Reg Prentice 1974
Shirley Williams 1976
Mark Carlisle 1979
Kenneth Baker 1986
John Patten 1992
2 Edward Short 1968
Margaret Thatcher 1970
Fred Mulley 1975
Kenneth Clarke 1990
Charles Clarke 2002
Michael Gove 2010
3 Rab Butler 1944
David Eccles 1954
David Blunkett 1997
Edward Balls 2007
4 Keith Joseph 1981
Ruth Kelly 2004
Alan Johnson 2006
5 Quintin Hogg 1957
Patrick Gordon Walker 1967

What is perhaps most surprising is that there appears to be no pattern for women. Though several women had no children of their own, Ruth Kelly had four, Margaret Thatcher two, and Shirley Williams had one of her own plus two stepchildren.

93% of Education Secretaries attended private or grammar schools. Only two did not.

1 Rab Butler Marlborough
2 Richard Law Shrewsbury School
3 Ellen Wilkinson Ardwick school
4 George Tomlinson Rishton Wesleyan School
5 Florence Horsbrugh Lansdown House
6 Geoffrey Lloyd Harrow School
7 David Eccles Winchester
8 Edward Boyle Eton
9 Quintin Hogg Eton
10 Michael Stewart Christ’s Hospital
11 Anthony Crosland Highgate School
12 Patrick Gordon Walker Wellington
13 Edward Short College of the Venerable Bede
14 Margaret Thatcher Kevesten & Grantham Girls’ School
15 Reg Prentice Whitgift School
16 Fred Mulley Warwick School
17 Shirley Williams St Paul’s Girl School
18 Mark Carlisle Abingdon School
19 Keith Joseph Harrow School
20 Kenneth Baker Hampton Grammar
21 John MacGregor Merchiston Castle School
22 Kenneth Clarke Nottingham High School
23 John Patten Wimbledon College
24 Gillian Shephard North Walsham Girls School
25 David Blunkett Royal National College for the Blind
26 Estelle Morris Whalley Range Grammar
27 Charles Clarke Highgate School
28 Ruth Kelly Sutton High School
29 Alan Johnson Sloane Grammar School
30 Edward Balls Nottingham High School
31 Michael Gove Robert Gordon’s College

The first was brought to my attention by @oldandrewuk who pointed out that David Blunkett bucked the trend. Denied the opportunity to sit the test for grammar school, Blunkett was sent to the residential Royal National College for the Blind. Once there his teacher insisted blind children did not need qualifications and instead taught him to type.

The second escaped my radar because he barely went to school at all. Only when reading his biography did I learn that George Tomlinson became a cotton mill ‘half-timer’ when he was aged 12. By 13, he worked there full-time.

Does it matter?

One can argue that the place where a Minister is schooled doesn’t really matter. Yet when George Tomlinson took up post The Spectator did not see it that way. Their editorial said:

“To put the Ministry of Education, concerned as it is with the whole range of secondary schools, grammar, modern and technical, as well as the primary schools, in the hands of a man who left a primary school at the age of 12 and has had no other formal education at all – that, it must be said again, is a surprising proceeding which raises disturbing questions as to what the conception of education in the present Government’s view is.”

Funny how a similar furore was never kicked up about the very many Ministers from independent schools who had not experienced a single one of these school types.

While reading all the Education Secretary biographies I’m also thinking about ways to ‘measure’ their greatness. One academic working on a similar question is David G. Winter, a political psychology professor at the University of Michigan. Winter studies the personalities of US Presidents (in particular) and investigates whether certain personality types are more or less likely to become ‘great’ Presidents.

One of his early works “The Power Motive” (1973) argues that politicians have three main motives:

  • Affiliation – Wants to belong, be liked, favours collaboration over competition
  • Achievement – Wants to set and achieve stated goals, want to be ‘the first person’ to do something, thrive on overcoming difficult problems
  • Power – Wants to control and influence others, win arguments, gain status, enjoys competition and ‘winning’

By looking at the things President’s have said during ‘off-the-cuff’ interviews or speeches (and daily schedules of activities), Winter found that Presidents with a high “power” motive are mostly like to be rated rated as “great” by historians. Winter theorises that ‘Power’ people are more likely to be ‘great’ because they enjoy the feeling of being in charge so much that they even enjoy its downsides. Conversely, achievement and affiliation seekers become frustrated by the impossibility of achieving every goal or of being liked by everyone and therefore become disllusioned, withdrawn and leave their role earlier.

Could this explain Education Secretaries?

Ellen WilkinsonEllen Wilkinson – For much of Ellen’s life she appears to have held a ‘power’ motive however when selected as Minister, she appears to have gone into achievement overdrive absolutely obsessed with the implementation of the ‘Raising of the School Age’ and becoming very despondent when faced with difficulties. Several historians have argued this lack of ability to achieve what she wanted contributed to her untimely death while still in office.

Estelle MorrisEstelle Morris – Appears to be a classic example of affiliation. In her first interview after resignation she explained how she did not want togrow  “a thicker skin” to deal with the fact that people no longer liked her. Instead, she left the role.

Indeed, people often think that affiliation is the ‘nice’ motive – but the prickliness and defensiveness that comes when their motivation is shaken is not fun to work with.

Michael Gove

Michael Gove – So far Gove appears to be a classic “power” lover, perhaps most clearly revealed when recently questioned at an Education Select Committee about glitches in his policies he nonchalantly replied: “Coherence comes at the end of the process”. To think that whatever one does is inevitably going to come good suggests the motive is not meeting a clear goal, nor of being liked,  which leaves only one other choice!

This is only the start of my thinking about this issue, but it’s certainly an interesting thought. What has motivated past Education Secretaries? And does it matter?

How many Education Secretaries can you recognise?

Skillful illustrator Malcolm Laverty has contributed a full set of Ed Secretary images to the site. Not only do they brighten up the site, but they also use styles that capture either the time period or tone set by each Minister. Have a look: how many can you name?. (Hovering the cursor over an image reveals the answer….)

Creative Commons License
Education Secretaries by Malcolm Laverty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Over at TimeToast I’ve developed an interactive timeline showing birthdates of the Education Secretaries. Unfortunately, because it uses Flash the timeline won’t show up directly on this blog or on most phones. [Boo to technology]. Instead there’s a screenshot below and clicking on it takes you to the website where you can play around.

Most interesting fact? No Education Secretaries so far were born between 1953 and 1966.

Ed Sec Timeline


To start us off on our quest, here’s a google maps showing the birthplaces of all UK Education Secretaries*. Can you find the one born outside of the UK?


*bar Geoffrey Lloyd, Fred Mulley & John Patten – If you know these, leave a comment so I can update.

Between 1944 and 1964, Education was only a Ministerial position. From 1964 it changed into a ‘Secretary of State’ role. Prior to 1944, the role was fulfilled by the President of the Board of Education. Rab Butler transferred from one position to the other, and he will be my starting point.

Jul 41 May 45 Rab Butler Conservative
May 45 Jul 45 Richard Law Conservative
May 45 Feb 47 Ellen Wilkinson Labour
Feb 47 Nov 51 George Tomlinson Labour
Nov 51 Oct 54 Florence Horsburgh Labour
Oct 54 Jan 57 David Eccles Conservative
Jan 57 Sep 57 Viscount Hailsham Conservative
Sep 57 Oct 59 Geoffrey Lloyd Conservative
Oct 59 July 62 David Eccles Conservative
July 62 Mar 64 Edward Boyle Conservative
Apr 64 Oct 64 Quintin Hogg Conservative
Oct 64 Jan 65 Michael Stewart Labour
Jan 65 Aug 67 Anthony Crosland Labour
Aug 67 Apr 68 Patrick Walker Labour
Apr 68 Jun 70 Edward Short Labour
Jun 70  Mar 74 Margaret Thatcher Conservative
Mar 74 Jun 75 Reginald Prentice Labour
Jun 75 Sep 76 Fred Mulley Labour
Sep 76 May 79 Shirley Williams Labour
May 79 Sep 81 Mark Carlisle Conservative
Sep 81 May 86 Keith Joseph Conservative
May 86 Jul 89 Kenneth Baker Conservative
Jul 89 Nov 90 John McGregor Conservative
Nov 90 Apr 92 Ken Clarke Conservative
Apr 92 Jul 94 John Patten Conservative
July 94 May 97 Gillian Shephard Conservative
May 97 Jun 01 David Blunkett Labour
Jun 01 Oct 02 Estelle Morris Labour
Oct 02 Dec 04 Charles Clarke Labour
Dec 04 May 06 Ruth Kelly Labour
May 06 Jun 07 Alan Johnson Labour
Jun 07 May 10 Ed Balls Labour
May 10 Michael Gove Con
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