Conservative leadership candidates: early years and schools round-up

With the first ballot's results now announced, and 3 MPs eliminated, we take a look at wherre the 7 remaining Conservative leadership candidates stand on childcare and education.

Boris Johnson


The frontrunner, who has now won the support of 114 MPs, was educated at Eton and Oxford, and had a Norland Nanny as a child. He is a proponent of grammar and free schools.

One of his first policy pitches was to spend at least £5,000 on every secondary school pupil in a pledge to even out the ‘yawning funding gap’ between pupils in London and the rest of the country.

He has come under fire though for divisive rhetoric, such as comparing veiled muslim women as looking like letterboxes and bank robbers, and called black people 'piccaninnies' with 'watermelon smiles'.

He talked as mayor of London of the need to encourage schools to allow more childcare on site to ease the shortage in London and announced an £8m fund to this effect. He was also accused of burying a report linking poor air quality with schools in deprived areas while mayor.

Has won the support of former hopeful Liz Truss, who tried - unsuccessfully - to change adult:child ratios when early years minister.

Michael Gove


One of the most controversial education secretaries of recent times, Michael Gove oversaw huge reforms to GCSEs and the expansion of academies.

Unpopular with many teachers, he was criticised by former coalition partner and Lib Dem schools’ minister David Laws for ‘making decisions based on ideology and personal experience.’ He is seen as imaginative by his supporters.

He sent his children to state schools and said this year that sending children to private schools should be an 'eccentric choice'.

He is supported by Nick Gibb, the schools minister, who has fervently advocated the drive towards teaching synthetic phonics from Reception, to the dismay of some early education professionals.

Giving a speech at an early years conference in 2011 as education secretary, he said, 'It’s really important that we recognise that when children are playing, they are learning; and that creativity is essential to what great child development involves. But it’s also critical that we recognise that children do need to be introduced to formal knowledge in a way and at a time that is appropriate for their own development.'

Matt Hancock


A former skills minister who was (unusually) both privately educated and attended FE college, has pledged a £3 billion for state primary and secondary schools in England over the next five years – twice the amount of spending promised by Boris Johnson. He has also talked of the need for education to foster attributes which will futureproof the workforce against the coming technological revolution – such as caring and compassion.

He has also called for a nationwide ban on mobile phones in schools has refused to rule out children being kept out of schools if they aren't vaccinated against measles.

Mr Hancock has the backing of former early years minister Caroline Dinenage.

Mark Harper - eliminated in the first round of votes


The former accountant is keen not to ‘pray around taxpayers money’ but has mentioned boosting school funding and more support for further education and apprenticeships. He has also said he would defend grammar schools.

His last job was as chief whip in 2016, and had previously served an immigration minister behind the Home Office’s ‘Here Illegally? Go Home or Risk Arrest’ vans but resigned after it emerged his cleaner didn’t have permission to work in the UK.

Harper attended a comprehensive school and further education college before studying at Oxford.

Jeremy Hunt


The longest-serving health secretary ever, from 2012 to 2018, Hunt oversaw large-scale reforms – his battle with junior doctors over the imposition of a new contract prompted the first general strike for 40 years.

Hunt’s statement that he is in favour of reducing the legal time limit for terminations from the current 24 to 12 weeks has prompted an outcry from fellow MPs and NHS workers, but he insisted that he was merely voicing a 'personal view' and that he has no plans to change the law if he becomes PM.

The current foreign secretary was an entrepreneur before becoming an MP and has said doing deals is his ‘bread and butter’.

He backed a ‘Save Our Nurseries’ campaign in his early days as an MP, saying in 2006, ‘I don’t want to see nurseries being forced to close as a result of the way in which the Government is seeking to implement free early years education places for three- and four-year-olds. It is not right.’

He has won the support of former early years minister Robert Goodwill, who said his delivery record shows he has the ‘dynamic, reforming and entrepreneurial’ vision needed to be PM.

Sajid Javid


Home Secretary since 2018 and MP for Bromsgrove, Mr Javid is a trustee of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). 

Last year he gave his support to the development of a tool to combat online child grooming for SME technology firms.

The would-be Prime Minister, who often reminds people of his background as the son of a Pakistani bus driver, has pledged to help ‘poor Brits’ be given the opportunities he had and ‘climb the ladder’.

Mr Javid has vowed to tackle anti-LGBT hate crime and set-up a new LGBT advisory panel.

Andrea Leadsom - eliminated in the first round of votes


Launching her leadership campaign, the former leader of the House of Commons said children living in poverty should get free meals during the school holidays. She also promised further flexibility on funded childcare for three- and four-year-olds.

Former leader of the House of Commons and MP for South Northamptonshire, Ms Leadsom suffered from postnatal depression following the birth of her eldest son.

She chairs the Early Years Family Support Ministerial Group, which is seeking to identify gaps in support and services for families from when a child is conceived up to the age of two.

Ms Leadsom also chairs parenting psychotherapy charity OXPIP and founded Parent Infant Partnership UK and the Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership.

Her infamous comments made during the previous Conservative leadership contest in 2016, that it would be 'sensible' not to appoint a man to look after young children because of the danger that he might be a paedophile, have prompted concern among many in a sector trying to encourage more men to take up childcare as a career.

In the same interview she suggested that being a mother made her a better candidate for leader than Theresa May, who does not have children. She later apologised for her comments.

Esther McVey - Eliminated in the first round of votes


The former work and pensions secretary has pledged an extra £2 billion for schools and the same amount for special educational needs and disabilities and further education as part of her leadership campaign. She said this would come from freeing up £7bn from the foreign aid budget.

A former TV presenter, Ms McVey has previously raised school funding in parliament. She is also in favour of more academy schools.

Last month, she said that parents should be able to withdraw their primary-age children from lessons on same-sex relationships.

Ms McVey oversaw the introduction of benefit reform including the Bedroom Tax and Universal Credit while at the Department for Work and Pensions, and was criticised in March for saying that poor families only use food banks because they prioritise new mobile phones over food.

Dominic Raab


The former Brexit secretary, who says he is 'probably not' a feminist, says he wants to give dads more opportunity to take on childcare responsibilities to help mums to pursue their careers.

He has also said one of his first acts as Prime Minister would be to establish a task force to improve maternity care. Other proposed moves include reviving young apprenticeships for 14-to-16-year-olds and expanding degree apprenticeships.

Mr Raab, who has gained the support of the children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi, has also hinted at scrapping gender pay audits.

He has won the support of the children's minister Nadhim Zahawi.

Rory Stewart


The Eton and Oxford-educated international development secretary has said he thinks his background is more of a hindrance than a help.

His priorities are likely to include providing affordable housing and training and apprenticeships.

As MP for Penrith and the Border, Mr Stewart says he is aware of the threat of closure faced by rural schools and has lobbied the education secretary, along with colleagues, to ensure the National School Funding Formula recognises the needs of rural schools and provides them with additional financial support.

The timeline

Following the first ballot, which eliminated Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom, a second round will be held on 18th June.

Following this and further votes, candidates will be whittled down to a final two when the vote will be opened up to 160,000 Conservative Party members in the week of 22 June.

The winner is expected to be announced in the week beginning 22 July.

*This story has been updated

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