Nadhim Zahawi has been promoted to the role of Education Secretary after overseeing the Covid-19 vaccine rollout across the country.
Mr Zahawi is inheriting a series of challenges which Gavin Williamson faced when in charge at the Department for Education (DfE), including the Government’s education recovery package for pupils amid the pandemic.
His promotion comes after the 54-year-old MP for Stratford-on-Avon was appointed to the new role of vaccines minister in November 2020, where he was responsible for the deployment of coronavirus jabs.
Born in Baghdad in Iraq, Mr Zahawi was privately educated at King’s College School in Wimbledon.
Mr Zahawi previously served as children and families minister in the DfE from January 2018 to July 2019.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Earlier this year, the Prime Minister declared that education was his biggest priority in the wake of the pandemic.
“The crucial task of translating the government’s rhetoric on education into reality now sits with the new Secretary of State.”
He added that one of the “most pressing tasks” facing the new education secretary will be to ensure the Government “fulfils its promise to deliver a properly funded recovery package”.
“With the comprehensive spending review only weeks away, there really is no time to waste,” he said.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), added: “The Department for Education 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.”
He added: “What our members need from the new education secretary is a greater sense of strategy and support than has been the case in the past so that we can together provide children and young people with the very best start in life.”
Following his appointment, Mr Zahawi said education is a “crucial part” of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, adding it is an “honour” to be made Secretary of State.
He said: “Children and young people have had a tough time during this pandemic and I’ll be listening to them and their families as we accelerate our work to build back better and fairer.
“From my own experience, I know what a beacon of opportunity this country can be and I want all children, young people and adults to have access to a brilliant education, the right qualifications and opportunities to secure good jobs.”
Mr Zahawi, who studied chemical engineering at the University College London (UCL), was co-founder and chief executive of market research agency YouGov before becoming an MP in 2010.
In January 2018, it emerged that Mr Zahawi had attended the Presidents Club dinner, a men-only charity event where hostesses were allegedly groped and sexually harassed.
But Mr Zahawi, who was children and families minister at the time, said he left the dinner early having been made to feel “extremely uncomfortable” and vowed never to attend such an event again.
When he was business minister, Mr Zahawi claimed in October last year that parents preferred to pay a “modest amount” for children’s food at a holiday club rather than have the label of a free school meal.
His comments came amid mounting pressure to back Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend the offer of free meals for children over the holidays.
On Mr Zahawi’s appointment, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “We hope that Nadhim Zahawi shows a passion and an interest in education and realises the power that valued education professionals have to transform the lives of young people.
“The Comprehensive Spending Review is in a matter of weeks.
“The new Secretary of State must be a strong advocate in Government for schools and colleges to be given the resources and funding they need to support education recovery for all children and young people.”
Nick Gibb is no longer a minister at the Department for Education (DfE).
In a tweet following the reshuffle, Mr Gibb offered his congratulations to Mr Zahawi saying he will do “a superb job in building on the reforms of the last ten years”.
He added: “I am sad not to be continuing as Schools Minister. It has been a privilege to play a part in helping improve the life chances of the next generation.”
Mr Gibb was known for his long stint at the DfE – he held the post of schools minister on two occasions, between May 2010 and September 2012, and between July 2014 and July 2016, when he was appointed school standards minister.