It is one thing to study the system, another to become part of it and quite another to care enough to try to change it. But Malcolm Wicks, 52, appointed an education minister in last week's reshuffle, appears to have achieved all three.
Educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, North West London Polytechnic and the London School of Economics, where he took a BSc in sociology, he began his career as a fellow in the department of social administration at York University.
He then carried out research at the Centre for Environmental Studies, worked for the Home Office and became director of the Family Policy Studies Centre, before defeating Tory Humphrey Malins to become MP for Croydon North in 1992.
A spokesman on social security while in opposition, after Labour came to power he became a member of select committees on social security, modernisation of the Commons and education and employment.
He has shown himself particularly interested in family issues involving treatment of children living in poverty, lone parents and social exclusion. Called both "charming" and "a solid performer", he is said to be a man determined to act to make things better rather than a "bleeding heart".
Once referred to as "Frank Field without God", he defended his fellow social policy thinker when Field, deposed as welfare minister last summer, claimed his radical ideas had been blocked.
Wicks was less supportive of Chris Woodhead, head of school standards watchdog Ofsted, making it clear in a report from the education sub-committee that the inspection system could do better.
Married to a scientist and with three children in their twenties, Wicks has already shown his higher education credentials, calling the failure of the sub-committee ever to hold an inquiry into HE "a scandal".
Send all information to Lynne Williams
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