2010-present Schools minister
2005-10 Shadow schools minister
2003-05 Education and skills select committee member
2001-03 Public accounts select committee member
Nick Gibb once said, “I didn’t come into politics for money. I came into politics out of a sense of public service and strong views about how our country should be run.”
Gibb caused havoc in the classroom just days into his new job as schools minister after the 2010 election. It all started with his admission that he would rather see an Oxbridge physics graduate without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from a “rubbish” university with a PGCE.
With his emphasis on discipline, many assume that Gibb hails from the traditional Etonian-Oxbridge elite, but in fact he prides himself on his state education and cites it as the inspiration behind his work as schools minister.
He attended grammar, independent and comprehensive schools in Bedford, Maidstone, Leeds and Wakefield and even had a brief spell in Canada before studying law at Durham University. After graduating he became a trainee accountant with NatWest and later a chartered accountant with KPMG.
After unsuccessfully contesting the Stoke-on-Trent seat in 1992 and Rotherham in the 1994 by-election, Gibb was finally elected in 1997 and was propelled into the opposition frontbench as a Treasury spokesman. He then went on to work in transport and trade and industry before becoming shadow minister for education and young people in 2005.
Described by The Guardian as a disciplinarian, the MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton is using his experience of state education to clamp down on schools that try to “game” the system, and vows to improve the quality of education over quantity.
A supporter of the English Baccalaureate, Gibb has petitioned for financial education to be a compulsory part of the national curriculum, and cites rote-learning as the most effective way of teaching children. Following on from that, he is reviewing how maths and personal, social and health education (PSHE) are being taught in schools. He was also critical of celebrity culture for encouraging “unrealistic expectations of wealth and lifestyle”.
For Gibb, a good education is the best way to tackle social problems, as highlighted in his speech to the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in April this year. He said: “It seems that the first answer of many to almost any problem in society is to give a duty to schools to tackle it, be it obesity, teenage pregnancy or knife crime.
“We could easily fill up the school curriculum... [but] there would be no time left for the academic subjects that need to be taught.”
The schools minister regularly contributes to the debate on children’s literacy, often citing Dickens and his discussions on poverty as being as relevant today as they were during Victorian times.
In a bid to encourage children to read more, he announced a national reading competition to be launched this autumn that will involve school-led events and prizes, and also hopes to encourage parents to read with their children at home.
At the top of his agenda is closing the attainment gap between the wealthy and the poor and to encourage pupils to do better, not just by getting students from a D to a C but also from a B to an A. He said: “The challenge for schools today is to be more ambitious, ask whether the ‘expected level’ is actually good enough... We need to raise our sights beyond okay.”
Gibb has been openly critical of schools that focus only on league tables and not enough on helping students study the subjects that will equip them for jobs. His response to this was the launch of a new performance table to encourage schools to raise standards and also to help parents make informed decisions on choosing schools.
He was largely unscathed following the MPs’ expenses scandal, after handing over details of his expenses claims to local papers in his constituency. Gibb also thinks that it’s wrong for MPs to take up any job outside politics, insisting that if he were motivated by money he would have stayed in accountancy.
He believes that it’s wrong for MPs to take directorships: “I feel very strongly that being an MP is a full-time job.”
The view inside Westminster
Colleagues report that Gibb is “quiet” and “perhaps a little shy”. “He’s not in the tea room much,” one says. Another Conservative MP adds that he does not deal with backbenchers a lot, for one reason or another. “He’s thoughtful, bright and a bit dull, from my dealings with him,” says another.