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Phil Willis

Short Biography of Phil Willis

Phil Willis was born to George Willis and Hannah Gillespie in Burnley, Lancashire on 30 November 1941. He spent his early life in his birth town and attended the Burnley Grammar School on Byron Street. He continued education at the City of Leeds and Carnegie Collage where he studied history and music. In 1963, he gained Certificate in Education and joined the Middleton Secondary Boys’ School as Assistant Master. His teaching career rose rapidly and in 1974, he became Deputy Headteacher at the West Leeds Boys’ Grammar School. The most rewarding period of his teaching career, however, Willis said he spent at the Primrose Hill High School in Leeds.

While rising to prominence as teacher, Willis continued his education and gained a Bachelor of Philosophy at the Birmingham University in 1978. In the very same year, he became the head of Ormesby School in Middlesbrough and started to work on the integration of physically disabled children into the mainstream education. He later returned to Leeds and became the head of the John Smeaton Community High School. Before he became Member of Parliament, he established himself as a respected teacher who gained a national recognition for his involvement in the integration of children with learning disabilities and other impairments into the mainstream education. Willis also helped create The family of Schools’ initiative which joined the agencies that work on improving the access to quality education to children with a disadvantageous background.

In 1985, Willis became a member of the Liberal party and was elected to the Harrogate Borough Council three years later. In 1990, he became the Leader of the Harrogate Council, while the town and its surroundings experienced rapid economic growth while the Council was led by Willis. As the greatest economic success while acting as Leader of the Council, Willis exposed the Harrogate Conference Centre which became a highly profitable event venue and one of the best of its kind in the UK. In 1993, he was elected to the North Yorkshire County Council and became the Deputy Group Leader soon after.

Phil Willis started his parliamentary career in 1997 when he defeated the Conservative candidate for Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont. Shortly after his election to the Parliament, he was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills. He retained the Shadow post until 2005 when he was appointed the Chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. In 2007, Willis also became Chair of the Joint committee on the Draft of Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. In 2009, he was appointed the Chairman of the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee which replaced the Science and Technology Select Committee.

In 2007, Phil Willis announced his retirement as Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough at the next General Election. He supported his Liberal Democrat colleague Claire Kelley who, however, was defeated by the Conservative candidate Andrew Jones.