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Science teacher and her ex-pupil elected as Labour MPs

Entering the hallowed halls of Westminster and rubbing shoulders with some of the most influential figures in the country can be daunting for new MPs.

Luckily for former teacher Dr Allison Gardner, she already had an ally in the vast new intake of Labour politicians – one of her former pupils.

Gardner was reacquainted with Josh Fenton-Glynn while campaigning earlier this year. During the conversation, the pair realised they knew each other: Gardner was his science and PSHE teacher decades earlier at Calder High School, in Calderdale.

“It was that ‘a-ha’ moment, it was just fabulous,” she said. “The really odd thing is I can see him in [the lab] where I taught him at Calder High School – after the thousands of children I’ve taught over 30 years of education, but I can see him. 

“He was a really good kid. It’s just lovely and I feel like a bit of a proud mum, I’m just so incredibly proud.”

Gardner won the Stoke-on-Trent South seat from the Conservatives by just 627 seats. She previously taught in Leeds and Halifax for six years before moving to Spain to teach the English curriculum in an international college. 

After teaching, Gardner specialised in artificial intelligence in her PhD and became the NHS’ senior scientific adviser for AI. 

“I’ve had a long and varied career, moved around and then come into politics but still caring very much about teaching,” she said.

“I know I’m an MP now, sorry, [but] I still think teaching is the best job in the world because you are forming the next generation of people, it’s an honour – and to have one of my old students there – it just means an awful lot to me.

“It punctuates my working life so beautifully, and I’m so proud of him.” 

Fenton-Glynn, MP for Calder Valley, posted on social media that Gardner was “one of my most fun teachers”, adding: “I don’t think either of us imagined that years later we’d both be part of a new intake of fantastic Labour MPs.” 

He told Schools Week: “She was a lovely and warm teacher. Always engaging and always funny. 

“We have said we’ll be a government of service so it shouldn’t surprise us that people like Allison who have been inspiring teachers in their past.”

Gardner now plans to focus on the issues with the SEND system as it’s “the one that comes up on the doorstep all the time”. 

Out of 25 candidates we found with teaching backgrounds, seven running for Labour were elected last week.

Teaching is ‘good apprenticeship’ for MP

Josh MacAlister, who trained through Teach First and taught for three years, won in Whitehaven and Workington. He led the 2022 independent review of children’s social care. 

MacAlister

The last time he was in the House of Commons was around 2011 as a citizenship teacher, taking pupils on a tour.

Teaching the subject, he said you need to have a passion for civic life, “politics and current affairs”, adding: “During my career I’ve spent time doing things outside of politics and wanting to make change happen, and I’ve decided to make the plunge.” 

He said teaching is a “good apprenticeship” for “holding the attention of a group of people”.

“It’s not a straight path but there’s a lot of members of parliament who have been teachers and educationalists so I think it does lend itself to politics in lots of ways.” 

Less than 24 hours after being voted in, MacAlister responded to a mountain rescue call-out. He has volunteered for three years in the role and hopes to continue as an MP. 

Alistair Strathern, who also trained with Teach First before teaching maths for two years, said it was a “real privilege” to win the Hitchin seat from the Conservatives last week. He was previously elected as the first Labour MP in Mid Bedfordshire in a by-election in October. 

Strathern with prime minister Keir Starmer

He told Schools Week it was “really important to have strong teaching voices in civic life”, adding: “The emotional resilience that teachers have to display day-in day-out through the classroom should be more than enough to equip them for civic life and I’d definitely push them to do it if it’s something they might be minded to.”

‘Much work to be done’

Amanda Martin, a former primary school teacher, unseated Conservative leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt in Portsmouth North. 

She is an ex-president of the National Education Union and led the NAHT school leaders’ union’s multi-academy trust strategy. 

Labour's Amanda Martin
Martin

“I have loved my career in education, but after 14 years of Conservative mismanagement there is much work to be done,” she said.

“As the new MP for Portsmouth North, I will work day and night to ensure we get our education system back up to standard, giving the best possible start in life to all our children and young people.” 

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “I have no doubt that Amanda will be a passionate advocate for children and young people in Parliament. Her understanding of the education sector is impressive, and her expertise is formidable.”

The new MPs who used to teach:

  • Alistair Strathern, former maths teacher, Hitchin MP
  • Dr Allison Gardner, former science and PSHE teacher, Stoke-on-Trent South
  • Amanda Martin, former primary teacher, Portsmouth North MP
  • David Baines, former primary school teacher, St Helens North MP
  • Josh MacAlister, former citizenship teacher, Whitehaven and Workington MP
  • Mark Sewards, former maths teacher, Leeds South West and Morley MP
  • Sureena Brackenridge, deputy headteacher, Wolverhampton North East MP

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