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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 ??

Florence HorsbrughFlorence Gertrude Horsbrugh, Baroness Horsbrugh, GBE, PC

Born: 13 October 1889

Died: 6 December 1969 (aged 80)

Party: Conservative

Dates as Education Minister: 2 Nov 1951 – 18 Oct 1954 (1082 days)

Age when Minister: 62 yrs (0m) to 65 yrs (0m)

Best Fact: The first woman to hold a Cabinet seat in a Conservative government

Born in Edinburgh to an accountant father she was educated at Landsdowne House and St. Hilda’s in Folkestone, before completing a Liberal Arts education at Mills College in California.

Her initial rise to prominence was through her work as head of the Ministry of Munitions canteen during the First World War.  During this time she created a ‘travelling kitchen’ that could feed people after the National Kitchens shut, and she even managed to secure an invite to feed the Queen.

In 1931 she overturned a 14,000 Labour majority to become MP in Dundee and in 1939 gained a junior position as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Health in 1939. During this time she oversaw the evacuation of children and the beginning of NHS reforms.

After losing her seat in 1945 she stood, and won, a seat in Manchester’s Moss Side in 1950 (can’t work out if this is even more surprising than a Conservative winning Dundee) . Shortly afterwards she became Education Secretary.

Unfortunately Horsbrugh inherited a bad lot. Churchill’s 1951 government put housing as its top priority and the budget for education was slashed right at the moment that the raising of the school leaving age and the 1946 baby boom were felt in force. The lack of money for school buildings meant over-crowding and squalor. In 1954 the TES argued that her policies were vague and she suffered ‘a want of courage’.

She left office in 1954, aged 65. In 1959 she took up residence in the House of Lords.

Is she a contender for ‘greatest’ ever education secretary? Highly unlikely.

Over the weekend I took part in some discussions about Matt Damon’s choice to send his children to private school (shhh…i’ll get to the history in a minute).

Many people were dismayed at Damon because he advocates hard for US state schools (see below)

And there was a feeling that this sort of hypocrisy is typical among politicians:

No doubt many education Secretaries have put their children through private establishments while simultaneously advocating for state schools. But to think that all politicians are inevitably hypocritical is to be overly pessimistic.

Reading Quintin Hogg’s biography last week I was stunned by a story which showed a remarkable lack of hypocrisy. It went like this:

Quintin Hogg

I joined the army by the back door in September 1939, just after war was declared. I do not wish here to say anything of my military career, which was sufficiently undistinguished. But I do make the point in my own favour that, having voted for the war in Parliament, I showed my willingness from the first to expose myself in it in an infantry battalion, and not in an administrative job, and, in the event, I did, in fact, have the honour to lead an infantry platoon in a minor battle and numerous night patrols in the desert in the summer of 1941.

That Hogg traded his comfy Commons position for the infantry is quite a remarkable act of courage and one that restores at least a little faith in politicians. Hogg also returned home from war to find his wife ‘not alone’ but instead ‘in the company of Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Head of Staff’. That story, however, is for another day….

George TomlinsonGeorge Tomlinson

Born: 21 March 1890

Died: 22 September 1952 (aged 62)

Party: Labour

Dates as Education Minister: 10 February 1947 – 26 October 1951 (1719 days – double the usual average)

Age when Minister: 56 yrs (10m) to 61 yrs (7m)

Best Fact: Left primary school to work in a cotton mill

*

Born to a large working-poor family in Rishton, Lancashire, Tomlinson’s parents immediate took out death insurance after his birth due to the doctor’s advice that he would only live for a matter of weeks.

This would be only the first of many times that Tomlinson overcame odds stacked against him.

After leaving school,  aged 12, to become a cotton mill worker, George became intent on finding a way to ‘get out’ of factory life. During his teens, Tomlinson attended night school classes on textiles and decided that he liked learning and his local church enough that he wanted to become a preacher. To prepare for the church entrance exam, he studied each night for three years. Getting up at 1.30am, he read through the night until heading to the mill at 5.30am, where he would work a full shift, go home, eat dinner, sleep, and then start again. Finally, after years of work, he was called to London to take his oral entrance exam. He failed.

Over the next two decades Tomlinson instead threw himself into trade union and local government activity. His most favoured positions involved education or textiles workers. In 1935, Tomlinson returned to Rishton, working at the Weavers’, Winders’ & Warpers’ Association where he took part in the Textile Workers’ Parliamentary Panel. Through his work there, and the accolades he had gathered over the previous decades as a local councillor, he was eventually asked to stand as MP.

Ten years after entering the House of Commons, and only a few days after the unexpected death of Ellen Wilkinson, Tomlinson was finally asked to take up the role he had wanted to get his hands on ever since he had been denied schooling of his own. He would, at last, be Minister for Education.

Two issues were most prominent during his tenure: school-rebuilding and the recruitment of thousands of new teachers. Tomlinson’s prior position at the Ministry of Works helped him gain the resources needed for 6000 new prefab classrooms, and by the end of 1947 a scheme was in place bringing in 13,414 new teachers via 55 college providers. He also began a reform of the examination system (sounds familiar) and worked tirelessly to ensure the raising of the school leaving age.

Removed from office after Labour lost the 1951 Election Tomlinson described the position of Education Minister as his ultimate goa statingl: “I am always happy as Minister of Education. Any man who could not be happy as Minister of Education has not power within him to be happy at all.”

Is he a contender for ‘greatest’ ever education secretary? Almost universally respected during his tenure, it is hard to think of another Ed Sec who was so widely admired across the education spectrum. That Tomlinson ‘saved’ two failing policies also means his record sounds impressive, but it also means he was not the ‘creator’ of any great vision or policy which means that he is rarely remembered by most people today. (He was certainly new to me).  Perhaps what Tomlinson best shows is that greatness in one’s own time does not always translate into ‘greatness’ as defined by those in the future.

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.

Ellen WilkinsonEllen Cicely Wilkinson, PC

Born: 6 October 1891

Died: 6 February 1947 (aged 55)

Party: Labour

Dates as Education Minister: 26 July 1945 – 6 February 1947 (560 days)

Age when Minister: 53 yrs (9m) to 55 yrs (4m)

Best Fact: First female Education Secretary

Born to a methodist teetotal father in Ardwick, Manchester, Ellen Wilkinson was one of only a handful of female MPs during the 1920s. Not only this, but she also came from a working class background with a father who faced several periods of unemployment and a mother who suffered long bouts of illness (she died when Ellen was 25). Eventually her father gained employment as an insurance agent, cycling around their town collecting dues, and trying to ensure families gained financial support when needed.

Educated at Ardwick Elementary Grade School, Ellen was initially asked to stay on as a trainee teacher – even though she was just a few years older than her charges.  During her first term she noticed her pupils were bored stiff, marking time until they could leave at 14. She therefore set out to teach them Addington Symond’s The Renaissance until one day she was interrupted by the Head who wanted to know why the students were no longer sitting still with their arms folded. Ellen haughtily responded: “They are sitting that way because I am interesting them”. Soon after, she was asked to leave her teaching post; the Head advised her that ‘missionary work’ might be more appropriate.

From 1924 until 1931 Ellen was MP for Middlesborough East. One of only four female MPs, the women were forced to share a single office, they could not eat in the dining room, and the one toilet reluctantly provided to them was a quarter mile walk away. After losing during the 1931 election, Ellen later took up a seat in Jarrow where she worked tirelessly on domestic issues air raid shelter preparations, pensions, stopping ‘pay day loans’ (reminiscent of the lenders currently in contention at present).

Despite her deep reservations towards Attlee as Labour leader, he still asked her to take the role of Minster for Education in his 1945 Cabinet. She was the first women to take the role, and only the second woman to enter the Cabinet. During her tenure she introduced free milk for all students, relentlessly pushed through the raising of the school leaving age to 15, and helped found UNESCO.

Plagued by illness through the last months of her life, Ellen died in February 1947. The coroner ruled that her death was caused by heart failure as a result of a drug overdose. The verdict stated that the overdose was accidental.

Is she a contender for ‘greatest’ ever education secretary? Her status as the first female Education Secretary, plus her working class roots and exuberant personality mean that Wilkinson is fondly remembered. Unfortunately her short tenure, coming as it did during a financially tight time, plus her alleged ambivalence towards the ‘comprehensive ideals’ of the 1944 Education Act mean her contributions to education may not ultimately stand up to measure.

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.

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