Who is Bridget Phillipson?

Bridget Phillipson

Bridget Phillipson is going to take on the role of education secretary after the Labour Party won the general election. She has been in the shadow position for the opposition since 2021.

Who is she and what will be her main focus when she leads the Department for Education?

Who's Bridget Phillipson?

Bridget Phillipson was born in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear in 1983 and was raised in the nearby town of Washington.

She recently shared her story about growing up on a street managed by local authorities without a father, but surrounded by a loving family who placed importance on education.

During a recent interview on The Rest Is Politics podcast, she expressed how valuable education was to her while growing up. She mentioned how lucky she was to have a family that strongly believed in and encouraged education.

In a conversation with Tes in 2022, she mentioned that in the place she was raised, there were many young people without jobs and a lot of crime, leading to "kids growing up in poverty that could have been prevented." She pointed out that these issues were hard to ignore in the educational system, stating that what was happening in school was directly connected to the difficult realities they were dealing with.

She went to St Robert of Newminster Catholic School in Washington. She has talked about receiving free school meals and the education maintenance allowance. These helped her stay in school and finish her A levels.

"In 2021, she shared with The Mirror that for many of her peers from school, the critical choice was between continuing education at 16 or leaving. Despite recognizing the challenging situations that some students faced, in an interview with Tes, she praised the presence of dedicated teachers and a strong drive for success that permeated the school."

As part of their goal, they wanted to help talented students apply to prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge. One student recalled being called to see their teacher, Mr. Hurst, in class. They were anxious, but it turned out that Mr. Hurst wanted them to attend an open day at Oxford University and consider applying, as they had not signed up for the visit yet.

Ms Phillipson continued her education by gaining acceptance into Hertford College at Oxford, where she pursued a degree in modern history.

At just 15 years old, she became a member of the Labour Party and later went on to become co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club.

Following her graduation, Ms Phillipson returned to the North East and accepted a position at her mother's non-profit organization, Women in Need. She became the manager of a shelter that provided support to women and children seeking refuge from domestic abuse.

During the 2010 general election, she ran as the Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South. At only 26 years old, she managed to secure the seat with over half of the votes.

After entering Parliament, she dedicated the initial decade of her political journey as a member of the backbenchers. Drawing upon her experience with Women in Need, she contributed her expertise to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence.

In the past three national elections held in 2015, 2017, and 2019, she was victorious every time. However, in the most recent election in 2019, she experienced a decrease in her lead from over 12,000 votes in 2017 to just slightly above 3,000.

At The Forefront

She was appointed as the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury in 2020. Her role was then elevated to shadow secretary of state for education in 2021.

In that position, she introduced many important promises regarding education policies for the Labour Party.

Ms. Phillipson has placed a strong emphasis on early childhood education. In an article for Tes in July 2023, she highlighted the importance of laying the proper groundwork for children's education.

"It is extremely important to ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in the early years foundation stage and receive top-notch early childhood education," she stated.

She declared, during the Labour Party conference in October 2023, that a comprehensive assessment of early childhood services will be conducted. The review will be headed by Sir David Bell, the former chief school inspector.

She has stated that implementing free breakfast clubs in all primary schools as part of Labour's plan would assist in enhancing the academic development of young students and offer parents more flexibility when it comes to resuming work.

Last year, Ms. Phillipson revealed a proposal to enhance the skills of elementary school teachers so they can teach practical math concepts. This initiative was viewed as a response to former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's plan to increase the level of mathematical education until the age of 18.

The money for this teacher training program will be provided through Labour's proposal to eliminate tax benefits for private schools. They argue that this will generate an extra £1.7 billion, but there are some who question this estimation.

Ms Phillipson recently shared her thoughts on private education during an interview on The Rest Is Politics podcast. She mentioned that she thinks parents should have the freedom to choose where their children go to school, but personally, she would not opt for private education.

She strongly believes that implementing VAT on private schools will not cause a huge number of privately educated students to switch to public schools. She explained that there are plenty of spots available in public schools due to declining enrollment.

She recommended that private schools could try to offset the VAT increase. "Public schools have faced difficult decisions lately, and I believe private schools should also think about how they can reduce their expenses," she said in the same podcast.

Solving The Hiring Dilemma

Ms. Phillipson has announced that Labour intends to use part of the expected tax surplus to recruit an additional 6,500 teachers to the field. However, the specifics of how this will be accomplished have not yet been revealed.

"At the Labour conference last year, she mentioned that we are currently strategizing on how to implement it, analyzing our previous methods and considering ways to make teaching more appealing."

She has expressed strong support for Labour's proposal to reform the way Ofsted evaluates schools, stating during a parliamentary discussion in April: "I am confident that with Labour, simplistic assessments will no longer be the norm."

In a blog post for Tes last year, she talked about how Labour is going to review the school curriculum. She emphasized the importance of equipping children with both knowledge and skills so they can not only navigate their futures but also make a difference. She also highlighted the significance of developing strong communication skills.

She hasn't discussed school structures or academisation much, but in a press conference last year, she told Tes that she is seeking a greater level of transparency and accountability in the decision-making processes of regional directors.

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