Gillian Keegan has made headlines after claiming that the safety of school buildings is not the government’s responsibility and that she is doing a “f*****g good job” at handling the ongoing crisis around RAAC.
In the extraordinary footage released by ITV, the Education Secretary can be heard saying: “Does anyone ever say you know what you’ve done a f*****g good job, because everyone else has just sat on their a*** and done nothing, no signs of that, no?”
The bold remarks were made on MPs’ first day back after the summer recess, ensuring a somewhat controversial return to Parliament for Keegan. But who exactly is the Education Secretary? Here are some key facts.
Who is Gillian Keegan?
Keegan, 56, is the MP for Chichester. She was appointed Education Secretary on 25 October 2022.
She left school at the age of 16 to become an apprentice - working at Delco Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors in Merseyside. She was then sponsored to study a degree in business at Liverpool John Moores University, and subsequently went on to do a Sloan Fellowship master’s degree at London Business School.
Before entering politics, Keegan worked in the manufacturing, banking and IT industries, and was most recently chief marketing officer for Travelport. Once she entered the political sphere, she worked as parliamentary under-secretary for apprenticeships and skills - and as care and mental health minister for former Prime Minister Johnson.
She lives in West Sussex with her husband, Michael, and has two stepsons.
What are her political views?
The topic which Keegan has spoken out about the most since becoming a politician is education, fittingly.
In 2019, she criticised the government for “playing catch-up” on mental health services for children, arguing that schools played a “vital role” in offering support and acknowledging “the signs when people need help”.
Keegan, who has a nephew with Down’s syndrome, has also stressed that funding for children with special education needs and disabilities is an issue “close to her heart”. In 2020, she warned the government that special schools in her district were experiencing overcrowding, saying that they required "financial investment to expand”.
The Chichester MP has also voiced her support for the government’s Levelling Up agenda. She spoke to the BBC about growing up attending a failing comprehensive school in Knowsley, Merseyside, which was closed down soon after she left. She explained that 92% of the children there failed to get enough O-Levels to progress in education (although she managed to get ten).
“Most people did not get any, or one or two at best,” Keegan commented. “People say about levelling up; about recognising that talent is everywhere but opportunity isn’t. I lived that and I thoroughly and fully believe it.”
Something else Keegan has spoken publicly about are her opinions on trade unions - which are less positive. She told the BBC that when she was working in a car factory, there were a lot of strikes. “The union guy used to come and see me on a weekly basis and try to strong-arm me into joining, and I didn’t like the style of that,” she recalled. “It just seemed wrong so I never joined, which was unusual.” She added that she thought strikes had taken place over issues she felt were “artificial”.
Has she been involved in any controversies?
In August 2020, Keegan was criticised for being on holiday during the GCSE and A-level grading controversy. Due to the pandemic, students were graded on their teachers’ predictions and some of the results sparked a public outcry. She was minister for skills and apprenticeships at the time.
The MP also made headlines during the pandemic when a journalist on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme asked her a specific question about social distancing rules and she responded with “I don’t know.”
Most recently, in September 2023, Keegan was caught swearing about the RAAC school crisis during an interview with ITV News, when the camera changed shot - and the MP appeared to believe she was no longer being recorded.
However, as she was still wearing her microphone, the Education Secretary was heard saying she had done a “f*****g good job” and that “everyone else has just sat on their a***”. This came after she had told ITV that ensuring school buildings do not collapse on children was the responsibility of local authorities and multi-academy trusts, not the Department for Education.
In a subsequent interview with Sky News, the Defence Secretary apologised for her language and said it was an “off-the-cuff remark after the news interview had finished, or apparently after it finished”. Ms Keegan said the remarks weren’t directed to anyone ‘in particular’.
Who else was Education Secretary before Keegan?
When Keegan was appointed Education Secretary in October 2022, she became the fifth person to serve in the role in four months, the sixth in 14 months, and the 10th since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
She succeeded Kit Malthouse, who left his role after Sunak became Prime Minister - and before he could make any announcements about his Cabinet. Before Malthouse, there was James Cleverly, who is now Foreign Secretary, and before him, Michelle Donelan, who quit after just 36 hours in the role amidst the series of Cabinet resignations which came at the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership.
Donelan had succeeded Nadhim Zahawi, whose predecessor was Gavin Williamson. Williamson was sacked from the role by Johnson in September 2021, and later had to resign as Minister of State Without Portfolio after becoming embroiled in a bullying scandal.