He replaces Damian Hinds, who was one of 17 senior ministers who resigned or were sacked from Government yesterday by the new prime minister.
Mr Williamson was previously defence secretary, but was sacked in May following an inquiry into a leak from a top-level National Security Council meeting.
The new education secretary was educated at a comprehensive in Yorkshire and studied at Bradford university.
The Prime Minister’s brother Jo Johnson MP becomes a minister of state (universities’ minister) in the Department for Education, as well as a minister in the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). He will also attend Cabinet.
Jo Johnson, who replaces Chris Skidmore, has been universities minister before. He was previously minister for universities and science at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) between May 2015 and January 2018. He was appointed minister for transport and minister for London in January 2018 but resigned in November because he could not support Theresa May’s Brexit strategy.
Other ministerial appointments in the DfE are yet to be confirmed, but could follow later today.
Amber Rudd has been appointed by Boris Johnson as minister for women and equalities in the Government Equalities Office, and remains as work and pensions secretary in the Department for Work and Pensions - a role she has held since last November.
The new prime minister chaired his first cabinet meeting this morning and is due to make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons. This will be followed by more middle-ranking and junior ministerial appointments.
Profile: Gavin Williamson
Born and raised in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.
Educated at local state schools and studied at Bradford University. Became a county councillor in North Yorkshire.
Elected as MP for South Staffordshire in 2010, he became a ministerial aide to David Cameron.
Made chief whip by Theresa May in July 2016. Reportedly kept a tarantula called Cronos in his office. He was appointed as defence secretary after Michael Fallon resigned in late 2017.
In the aftermath of the Salisbury attack, when the Government expelled Russian spies, he said ‘Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up’.
Comments from the sector
The early years sector, schools and colleges are in the midst of a funding crisis, and the National Education Union, the biggest teachers' union, urged the new education secretary to 'hit the ground running'.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance said, ‘We look forward to working with Gavin Williamson in his new role, and sincerely hope that with his own comprehensive education and background in business, he will recognise the importance of quality, affordable early years education and childcare for social mobility and for helping parents to work.
‘Mr Williamson arrives in his post at a time of crisis in early years education. There is a lot of ground to make up for the massive £662 million funding shortfall following years of underfunding of the Government's flagship childcare schemes.
‘With almost 10,000 childcare providers closing for good between 2016 and 2018 and many more anticipating closure in the next 12 months, proper funding is needed to stop the total disintegration of the sector. We hope the new secretary of state understands the urgency of the situation, and agrees that the sector needs adequate funding now, as well as an annual review of costs if it is to continue to be able to deliver the government's ambitious childcare programmes.’
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘The new Education Secretary must hit the ground running.
‘We need to recruit 15,593 new teachers in the next three years, but teacher recruitment and retention problems are serious and getting worse. According to the latest school census, almost a third of teachers (32.3 per cent) leave within five years of qualifying, a record high.
‘Teacher workload is amongst the highest in the world and teacher job satisfaction amongst the lowest. High-stakes testing and failing accountability systems continue to have a distorting effect on children’s learning and are the underlying cause of both the overwork and poor job satisfaction of teachers.
‘Schools and colleges are still facing the effects of huge funding cuts, teachers and support staff are losing their jobs, and class sizes are rising.
‘Past secretaries of state have failed to make any serious progress on these issues, and all the while children’s education and wellbeing are suffering.’
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice, the union for education professionals, said, ‘The funding crisis has devastated all phases of education, from early years through to further and higher education. Increasing demand for SEND provision has not been matched with increased funding. This has restricted the support that can be provided and prevented schools, colleges and early years providers from planning for anything other than further cuts, a factor which can be devastating when those cuts mean the loss of invaluable teaching assistants and specialist teachers.
‘The Government needs a plan for the early years as well as Brexit. As well as extra funding for early years settings, there needs to be a career and salary structure for early years professionals, who – as the Education Policy Institute and National Day Nurseries Association have pointed out – are currently leaving in droves to earn more stacking supermarket shelves.’