UK Cabinet reshuffle: Nadhim Zahawi appointed education secretary

Former vaccines minister succeeds Gavin Williamson

September 15, 2021
Nadhim Zahawi
Source: Richard Townshend

Nadhim Zahawi has been named education secretary in the Westminster government, replacing Gavin Williamson.

Mr Zahawi, who previously held joint appointments as minister for business and industry and as minister for Covid vaccine deployment, was handed the job by prime minister Boris Johnson, who earlier sacked Mr Williamson from his top team.

Mr Zahawi becomes education secretary at a pivotal time, with the comprehensive spending review to conclude on 27 October, at which the government has said it will issue its much-delayed final response to the Augar review of post-18 education. The DfE had originally pledged to publish a consultation on sector changes in the spring, but that has been held up by wrangling between the department and the Treasury.

Mr Williamson said in his final speech, to the recent Universities UK conference, that the government was “moving forward” with a consultation on minimum entry requirements to access student loans, a potential means of cutting student numbers and spending in higher education.

A successful stint in the vaccines post is likely to have earned Stratford-upon-Avon MP Mr Zahawi the post, as the government seeks a more competent approach in the Department for Education, after Mr Williamson was criticised for his handling of school closures and exams during the pandemic.

Mr Zahawi was born in Iraq to Kurdish parents, who fled the country for the UK when he was nine. He studied chemical engineering at UCL and went on to co-found polling firm YouGov.

As a member of the then Business, Innovation and Skills committee, Mr Zahawi unsuccessfully opposed the appointment of Sir Les Ebdon as director of fair access under the coalition government in 2011. He served as minister for children and families in Theresa May’s government.

Speaking following his appointment, Mr Zahawi said that he wanted “all children, young people and adults to have access to a brilliant education, the right qualifications and opportunities to secure good jobs”.

Separately, the prime minister confirmed that Kwasi Kwarteng would continue in post as secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

No 10 also said that universities minister Michelle Donelan would keep her post as a minister at the Department for Education and would now attend Cabinet, putting her on a par with several former holders of the post, including Lord Willetts and Jo Johnson – although they also had responsibility for science. It was not immediately confirmed whether Ms Donelan would retain the universities brief.

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