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Rab ButlerRichard Austen Butler, Baron Butler of Safron Walden

Born: 9 December 1902, Attock Serai, British India

Died: 8 March 1982 (79), Great Yeldham, Essex

Party: Conservative

Dates as Education Minister: 20 July 1941  – 25 May 1945 (1405 days)

Age when Minister: 38 yrs (7m) – 42 yrs (5m)

Educated first in British India, ‘Rab’ Butler was later taught at Marlborough College and then Pembroke College, Cambridge. Like many other Education Secretaries after him, he was the President of the Cambridge Union Society.

In his Parliamentary career, Butler first acted as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs before taking up the position as President of the Board of Education, then later the newly-invented role of Minister for Education. During his office Butler passed the landmark 1944 Education Act, the foundation for compulsory secondary schooling for all. After education, Butler subsequently served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, First Secretary of State and Deputy Prime Minister. He was the Saffron Walden MP for over 36 years.

Is he a contender for ‘greatest’ ever education secretary? Yes. Oh yes.

Starting on July 9th 2013 and continuing for as long as it takes I am reading the autobiographies of every ex-Education Secretary of State since 1944. I’ll be blogging excerpts & thoughts as I go.

My driving question: Who was the greatest Education Secretary of all time, and why? (With a secondary aim of better understanding the people in this role. After all, teachers complain politicians don’t understand them, but teachers should also understand politicians).

The first book is Rab Butler’s “The Art Of The Possible” (yes, I know he wasn’t technically a Secretary of State).

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