Nadhim Zahawi still fondly remembers Miss M’barak, the Iraqi school principal who helped put him on the path to power nearly half a century ago.
âI was very mean at school,â he admits. “But Miss M’barak told me: you are very talented, just channel your talents to the right thing and you will do very well.”
Now Mr Zahawi – who fled Saddam Hussein’s country with his family in time to start secondary school in the UK – has justified his exhortation at al-Mansour Primary School in Baghdad by winning a long-anticipated seat at the Cabinet table.
Boris Johnson’s new Education Secretary is overflowing with gratitude for the welcome he received upon his arrival in this country.
âIt’s the best country in the world. I can’t think of any other country that would accept an immigrant from Baghdad and appoint him as Secretary of State for Education in Her Majesty’s government.
Nadhim Zahawi (pictured) said Miss M’barak, the principal of al-Mansour primary school in Baghdad, Iraq, put him on the path to power nearly half a century ago.
Not everyone was welcoming in 1970s Britain, however.
Mr Zahawi, 54, recalls with a grimace the bullies at his London school who hung a shy 11-year-old boy over the Holland Park pond and plunged his head, prompting his parents to call him. quickly transfer to another school.
But it is the Labor Party playing field politics that Mr Zahawi exercises today – and in particular Deputy Leader Angela Rayner’s description last week of the top Tories as “homophobic, racist, misogynist … scum”.
The Iraqi Kurd – one of seven ministers from an ethnic minority – was appalled by her inflammatory language.
Referring to the 2016 murder of Labor MP Jo Cox, Mr Zahawi told the Mail on Sunday: “I think people go into politics because they want to do the right thing, they want to serve their country.”
He added: âThis kind of language – and I would call it demonization – is dangerous because words matter and words have consequences. We saw it with Jo Cox and I’m really worried.
He says he was “touched” when the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, revealed he had 24-hour security because of his “skin color and the God I adore”.
Now Mr Zahawi (pictured) – who fled the country in time to start secondary school in the UK – has justified his urging by becoming Boris Johnson’s new Education Secretary
Mr Zahawi said: âWhen we go down the path where we play the man or the individualâ¦ it is a dangerous place for us to lead the nation.
‘I really do not understand. She [Rayner] must have felt a real pain when we unfortunately lose a colleague like Jo Cox. They have to examine their conscience – think about it, look in the mirror and say: is this really what we want to be? I do not think so.
After two weeks of work, Zahawi was faced with a set full of issues left by his predecessor Gavin Williamson, including helping students make up for learning time lost during the pandemic and grade inflation caused by teacher evaluations, all against the backdrop of obstructive and leftist teacher unions.
âI want to go back to the rigor of the exams,â he said. âOur goal is to make sure by the next election that the children have caught up. We have protected the NHS and I think it is really important that we protect education.
Mr Zahawi, who won his promotion after organizing the vaccine rollout as health minister, also rejects Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer’s vow to hit private schools with a Â£ 1.7million tax to “finance improvements in the public sector”. He describes it as revealing a “terrible judgment”.
Mr Zahawi (pictured as a child) admitted he was “very mean” when he was in school
Mr Zahawi, who graduated from the fee-paying King’s College School in Wimbledon, believes private schools are a vital part of the country’s educational “ecosystem”.
He said: âI have had experience from both sectors. I think that’s typical of Starmer – making the headlines, but when you look at the details it just breaks down.
“For parents who scrimp and save for their children to go to an independent school because it is their preference, if these schools are no longer available to them and they have to enter the maintained sector, it adds to the pressure on the system. I think he is making a terrible judgment.
Keen not to appear elitist, Mr Zahawi – who amassed a Â£ 55million property portfolio with his wife Lana following a career in opinion poll, oil and recruitment firms – Then carefully balances his remarks by committing to “bankrupt independent schools by improving the maintained sector”.
Like several Conservative education secretaries before him, Zahawi appears to moderate his previously enthusiastic support for high schools now that he is in office.
Five years ago, he wrote that the government should “increase the selection role in our public education system” because of “the exceptional education they offer, the opportunities offered to children from all walks of life and the impressive results which are issued “.
Mr Zahawi, who has three high schools in his constituency of Stratford-upon-Avon, now says he is focusing a lot on “the whole family of education providers”.
He says: âI think selective schools have a place in our ecosystemâ¦ if they do a good job and if they really do all they can to ensure that this opportunity is available for every child.
“I came to this country when I was 11 and didn’t speak a word of English, I sat at the back of the class trying to string the words together in my head to make a sentence to participate in , but when I “d made the sentence on which the subject had evolved in class.
âMy teachers thought I was having learning difficulties. Now I want the system to work for this 11 year old whose parents can’t afford to do what my parents did and that is really my goal.
Mr Zahawi (pictured) was appalled at Angela Rayner’s description of senior conservatives as “homophobic, racist, misogynist … scum”, saying it was “demonization”
âI have been here now for two weeks and the big success has been the multi-academy trusts and the ability to spread good practice in a family of schools, to attract really talented people into the profession and to raise the bar in terms of teachers. ‘
The exuberant Mr. Zahawi only tensed up when asked to step into the awakening landmine realm: in particular, does he agree with Sir Keir’s intervention in an internal dispute at work on whether “people with a cervix” can include men who have made the transition?
Sir Keir said it was “not fair” to say that only women have a cervix.
Does Mr. Zahawi think that only women can have a cervix?
âWell, it’s a biological fact,â he declares in a neutral tone.
“I did a bachelor’s degree in human biology … and it is a biological fact”.
It sidesteps the thorny issue of teaching children about gender identity and what toilets should be used by transitioning students.
âThe teachers have a responsibility to deliver what we put into the program and I think it’s the right thing to do.
âSchools have the responsibility of safeguarding. It is extremely important that principals, teachers and support staff in schools are really well trained and able to do this.
If enthusiasm and patriotism for his adopted country is the key to Mr. Zahawi’s success in his portfolio, then he’s already halfway there.
” Which country ! He exclaims. “I wake up in the morning and pinch myself, how did I get here? “