James O'Shaughnessy

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James O'Shaughnessy is a well-connected lobbyist and education reformer based in the UK.

In 2015, it was announced that he was to become a member of the House of Lords. He was director of policy to the UK prime minister David Cameron.

He is currently managing director of Floreat Education, a charity and schools operator, which is setting up a group of primary schools in West London.

Leading education reform in the UK

James O'Shaughnessy has been central to recent market reforms of schools in England. He wrote in The Times in 2012: ‘Michael Gove will succeed, he’d better do. I’ve bet my career on it.’[1]

After a period under Gove at the Policy Exchange from 2004, O’Shaughnessy followed Gove, the newly appointed shadow education secretary, to work for the Conservative Party in opposition. He then co-drafted the deal between the coalition parties in 2010, before doing a ‘stint’ as Cameron’s director of policy.

During this period two pieces of education reform legislation were pushed through. The first, which was aimed at allowing many more schools to be independently run, was hurried through parliament, passing into law in 77 days, just months after the election and ‘too fast for the Liberal Democrats to marshal resistance’. It was ‘oven-ready’ when Gove arrived. Weeks before the second piece of schools legislation became law in late 2011, O’Shaughnessy quit government to return to the private sector.

Since then O'Shaughnessy has taken on a number of roles in the education reform field:

  • O’Shaughnessy became a consultant to education sector giant, Pearson, through his 'education, policy and research consultancy', Mayforth Consulting.[2]
  • Since early 2012, he has also been chief policy adviser at Portland PR. Portland has lobbied for many companies in the education / edtech industries (see Portland PR's page for more). A statement issued by Portland said O'Shaughnessy would 'advise clients on the priorities of the coalition and in particular the Conservative Party'. The Financial Times commented: 'His insights are likely to be valuable to Portland’s clients, which include Google, Apple, McDonalds, Vodafone and BAE Systems, given his insider’s view not only of Conservative thinking but also that of the Liberal Democrats.
  • O'Shaughnessy also returned as a 'visiting fellow at Policy Exchange, where Gove's former 'attack dog', as James Frayne has been dubbed, is now head of policy.[3]
  • He is a co-founder of EdSpace, a shared workspace for education entrepreneurs. It also runs events, such as an ‘Entrepreneur Network Event’ with TeachFirst in November 2014.
  • Floreat Education is an education charity run by O'Shaughnessy. Through Floreat Education Academies Trust, it is setting up a chain of primary schools in West London. It has gained approval to set up five primary schools in various boroughs in the area. It has also been approved by the Department for Education as an academy sponsor, meaning it can take over the running of existing schools. Floreat was also one of 14 organisations to be awarded money by the Department for Education in May 2015, as part of its 'character grants scheme'. The funding is for projects that build resilience and 'grit' in pupils. Floreat was awarded £124,000 to 'develop and pilot a character virtue development programme for reception, year 1 and year 2 in its two new free schools'.[4]
  • O'Shaughnessy is also an adviser to Character Lab, another 'character education' lobby group, in the US, co-founded by Dave Levin, who also co-founded the charter school chain, KIPP.[8]
  • He also counts his old school and central venue for reformers, Wellington College, as a client. Wellington College is host to the annual Sunday Times Festival of Education, which has been sponsored by big names in the edtech market, such as Pearson, Google and Microsoft. Wellington was also host to a Positive Education Summit, on character education, in October 2013.[9] Wellington and its former head Anthony Seldon are vocal lobbyists for 'character' to be taught in schools. 'The focus of all of our leadership programmes is on character education,' its website states. 'Character means having the moral and ethical strength to behave according to sound values and principles. Without great strength of character, it is not possible to lead effectively.' The elite private school was also the site of a low-key event for fifty or so education reformers towards the end of 2012. Hosted by O'Shaughnessy, it featured reform-minded policy-makers, such as Blair’s Education Minister and academy champion, Andrew Adonis, and Michael Gove’s then schools commissioner, Elizabeth Sidwell, as well as academy school operators and free school founders, education technology lobbyists, including Microsoft, and the posse of think tanks and lobby groups pushing for market reforms of education. It featured talks from PwC on its efforts to break into the market to manage schools; from Microsoft, on technology and teaching; and policy discussions with school sponsors who proposed that the 'ridiculously onerous requirement of having to offer the whopping 14% teachers pension scheme' be removed; that it should be made easier particularly for free schools to 'build entrepreneurial revenue-generating activities into their core budget'; and 'to allow some level of regulated private investment into the school budget'. 'A brilliant set of policy suggestions,' said O'Shaughnessy, who is clearly agreement with those who want schools operators to be allowed to make a profit.

He describes the struggle of the UK's education reformers as ‘a huge battle in an already very long war’.


A PPE graduate of St Hugh's College, Oxford,[10] 33 year old O’Shaugnessy was ranked 89th in a list of the 'Top 100 most influential Right-wingers' by The Telegraph in October 2009.[11]

He originally joined Conservative Central Office (CCO) in 2001 where he was special adviser to the then Shadow Education Secretary Damian Green. After leaving the CCO, O’Shaugnessy was appointed head of research at LLM Communications.[12]

From 2004 he was a 'leading light' at right-wing think thank Policy Exchange,[13] leaving to rejoin the Conservatives in 2007 as Director of Policy and Research. Of this move back to the Conservatives, New Statesman journalist Tara Hamilton-Miller remarked:

the appointment of James O'Shaughnessy as director of research and policy is significant. O'Shaughnessy has come from the think tank Policy Exchange, producing some of its most interesting ideas. Historically, heads of research have been comfortable with their policy-wonk geek persona. O'Shaughnessy is different. He understands the importance of the media. One of his first tasks will be to see how the research and press departments can work better as a team. One area he will fine-tune, having specialised in public services, is education and welfare.[14]

In 2008, he told Conservative councillors that the party need to present the the "change you can trust" theme - a direct lift from the Barack Obama campaign, according to Cameron biographers Francis Elliott and James Hanning. He also identified four key objectives for the year: winning the London mayoralty, gaining support in the north, establishing the Tories as the party of economic competence and maintaining 10-point lead in the opinion polls.[15]


  • MD, Floreat Education, July 2013 – Present
  • Director, Mayforth Consulting, January 2012 – Present
  • Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Birmingham, May 2012 – Present
  • Chief Policy Adviser, Portland Communications, January 2012 – Present
  • Visiting Fellow, Policy Exchange, January 2012 – Present
  • Director of Policy to the Prime Minister, No.10 Downing Street,
  • Head of Policy and Research, Conservative Party, September 2007 – May 2010
  • Deputy Director, Policy Exchange, June 2004 – September 2007
  • Head of Research, LLM Communications, June 2003 – May 2004
  • Special Adviser, Education and Skills, Conservative Party, June 2001 – May 2003



  • Twitter @jamesosh


  1. James O’Shaughnessy, ‘Change in schools has to start at the bottom’, Times, 3 January 2012
  2. James O'Shaughnessy, linkedin acc 23 January 2012
  3. James Cusick, ‘Dump f***ing everyone’: the inside story of how Michael Gove’s vicious attack dogs are terrorising the DfE, Independent, 15 February 2013
  4. Rugby coaches to be drafted in to help build grit in pupils, Department for Education press release, 31 May 2015
  5. Rugby coaches to be drafted in to help build grit in pupils, Department for Education press release, 31 May 2015
  6. Character Education in UK Schools, Jubilee Centre, 27 February 2015
  7. International Positive Education Network, accessed August 2015
  8. Out Team, Character Lab website, accessed August 2015
  9. Why character is the key to a perfect education, Floreat website, 9 October 2013
  10. Policy Exchange, "Alumni", accessed 07.09.10
  11. Iain Dale and Brian Brivati,"Top 100 most influential Right-wingers: 100-76", The Telegraph, 05.10.09, accessed 07.09.10
  12. Policy Exchange, "Alumni", accessed 7 September 2010
  13. Iain Dale and Brian Brivati,"Top 100 most influential Right-wingers: 100-76", The Telegraph, 05.10.09, accessed 07.09.10
  14. Tara Hamilton-Miller, "A new background noise", New Statesman, 13.09.07, accessed 07.09.10
  15. Francis Elliott and James Hanning, Cameron: The Rise of the New Conservative, Harper Perennial, 2009, p.332.
  16. James O'Shaughnessy, linkedin acc August 2015