Reshuffle: Alex Burghart appointed apprenticeships and skills minister

He replaces Gillian Keegan


Alex Burghart has been named as the Department for Education’s new apprenticeships and skills minister.

He replaces Gillian Keegan who was promoted to the Department of Health and Social Care as a minister of state yesterday.

Sources inside Westminster had reported that universities minister Michelle Donelan had been telling staff she would be responsible for all post-18 education after being confirmed as a DfE minister on Wednesday and promoted to attend cabinet.

But last night Burghart, the MP for Brentwood and Ongar, was announced as new parliamentary under secretary of state in the DfE and tweeted an image of him holding the Skills for Jobs white paper with the caption “here we go”.

The DfE’s webpage has been updated this morning and states Burghart will take on the apprenticeships and skills brief.

But he will share responsibility for “strategy for post-16 education” with Donelan.

The DfE told FE Week, however, that full portfolios are still being finalised.

Making up the DfE ministerial team is new education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, school standards minister Robin Walker, children’s minister Will Quince, and Baroness Berridge who stays on as school system minister.

Burghart said following his appointment: “I am very pleased to have been given a role in the Department of Education in the prime minister’s reshuffle this week.

“I am joining the new education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, ministers Michelle Donelan and Robin Walker, and my Essex colleague Will Quince as a parliamentary under secretary and look forward to the new challenge.

“Having had the pleasure of visiting every school in the Brentwood and Ongar constituency since being elected in 2017, I have no doubt our local headteachers and school staff, parents and pupils will continue to share their views on education policy with me, and I thank them for being so frank about the issues they have faced in recent years.” 

What we know about the new skills minister

In contrast to his predecessor Gillian Keegan, who often boasted of having started her career as an apprentice, Michael Alex Burghart won a scholarship to the private Millfield School then went on to study a master’s in history at Oxford. He then completed a PhD at King’s College London on The Mercian polity, 716-918.

He is the son of two teachers and is himself a former teacher, having taught at King’s College London while studying for his PhD. He was also a governor of a school for students with autism.

He worked for the Department for Education on the 2012 Munro Review of child protection.

Burghart also brings think tank experience to this ministerial role, having led on education and family policy for the Centre of Social Justice. And while working at another think tank, Policy Exchange, he wrote a paper entitled: ‘A Better Start in Life: Long-term approaches for the most vulnerable children’.

Counts ex-skills minister among his neighbours

Burghart represents the Brentwood and Ongar constituency, which neighbours the seat of Burghart’s predecessor as skills minister, Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon.

He has served as a parliamentary aide to prime minister Boris Johnson, then-attorney general Geoffrey Cox, and then-Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley. He was a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee and co-chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Adverse Childhood Experiences.

The posting as a parliamentary under-secretary of state to the Department for Education is Burghart’s first ministerial role.

While he does not have any colleges in his constituency, there are several dotted around its boundaries, including New City College’s Ardleigh Green campus, South Essex College, Chelmsford College and Harlow College.

Burghart has spoken up for apprentices and against ‘inadequate’ vocational courses

The 44-year-old has previously spoken in parliament about supporting people leaving care into further education and employment.

In 2018, he questioned then-education secretary Damian Hinds about improving the quality of social workers in the country “to ensure that children in care can move on into employment and further education”.

A year earlier, he led a debate on support for care leavers, where he argued apprenticeships “do not offer care leavers the same advantages as young people living at home with their families,” and the system assumes they are still living in the family home.

He cited care leavers who were having to manage bills and finances on “about £3.50 an hour,” and asked the government to look into the issue.

In 2019, he spoke in Commons after having heard from “a lot of employers complaining that vocational courses do not adequately prepare young people for the workplace,” and asked Hinds if he would commit to including businesses in the development of T Levels.

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