Meet the full-time student now in charge of Wolverhampton’s schools

Eight years after leaving high school, 26-year-old Councillor Chris Burden will now leading the way forward on education in Wolverhampton.

Chris Burden
Chris Burden

The city’s youngest councillor will juggle making key decisions about the city’s education services while also studying for a PhD.

Fiercely proud of his working class roots, Councillor Burden has vowed to to use his new position to create more opportunities for young people from all backgrounds.

As the city’s cabinet member for education, skills and work, he will take the lead on how council-backed schools and services are managed.

“I’ve lived and breathed the education system of this city and I know the challenges it faces,” said Councillor Burden.

“Now I’m leading on education, jobs and skills and have come full circle to be back involved in the system that gave me so many opportunities.

“We were a single-income working class family. Mum looked after us, whilst Dad was a factory worker all his life.

“Dad took all the overtime he could and worked hard to provide for us until he died. I found that this instilled a really strong work ethic in me from a young age.”

First elected to office last year, Councillor Burden did a French and German degree at the University of Birmingham in 2019 before training as a teacher at the University of Wolverhampton, graduating in 2020.

Describing how his life was changed by a secondary school teacher, he vowed to create opportunities for youngsters in the city.

“I’ll never forget Mme. Allin, my A-level French teacher. She was the one who actually inspired me to really love French and encouraged me to apply to university to study it.

“My dad died of cancer during my A-levels and Mme. Allin was the one who picked me up while I was struggling. She always said ‘everyone is going to sparkle’ and she invested so much of her own time into me and the other two students in her class.

“She was the first person who made me believe in myself again after dad passed, and treated me just like a normal person. I definitely wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near as much without people like her,” he added.

Born and bred in Wolverhampton, Councillor Burden, who represents Fallings Park ward for Labour, attended Rakegate Primary School, in Oxley, and went on to do A levels in Biology and Chemistry at Aldersley High School and French at Smestow Academy.

“After I graduated I realised I wanted to be like my French teacher and that’s why I started teacher training," he said.

"I picked Wolverhampton University because I knew I wanted to teach in the Black Country.

“I wanted to teach kids that were like me, and hoped I could be even half as good as Mme. Allin. When kids chose German or French as their GCSE, it was genuinely some of the proudest moments of my life,” he said.

“I was only able to teach for two years before I was offered the opportunity to study full-time for a PhD, but I’m hoping to return to the classroom as soon as I’m finished.”

Councillor Burden, who is doing his PhD in social science at Aston University in Birmingham, said he was absolutely delighted to accept the cabinet post as education lead for the city, and was looking forward to tackling the challenges ahead.

“It really means the world to me and I know there will be pressures, as there always are with such things, but I’m ready to get started because I know it’s going to be well worth it," he said.

“I’m passionate about Wolverhampton and I got into politics because I wanted to make a difference and change the vision people have of both the city, and of councillors.

“I wanted people to hear a working class accent addressing the council, and for young people to be able to see themselves as leaders if they wanted to be,” he added.

Councillor Burden, who is openly gay, has also been nominated in the Positive Role Model for LGBT category at this year’s prestigious National Diversity Awards.

The awards celebrate the achievements of charities, role models and community heroes for their outstanding devotion to enhancing equality, diversity and inclusion, with the winners announced at a black tie event at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on Friday September 16.

“Growing up, there were so few vocal gay politicians and it makes you think it could never be you,” he said.

“When you put yourself into a public-facing role you expect to get a bit of push back, so getting some pleasant feedback is amazing too. I’m very proud to be nominated.

“Since being elected, I’ve faced a foul amount of homophobia. People have literally stopped me in the street to yell slurs in my face. I’ve been physically threatened and intimidated.

“People have emailed me to tell me how disgusting I am, or to tell me how gay people should be banned from holding public office.

“And that’s the sad thing. I expected all of this abuse when I first stood for election. And that kind of proved the point of why these awards are still needed. There’s still a massive way to go towards equality,” he added.

“If you’re a young LGBT kid thinking about joining politics and you see nobody like you, you’re going to be put off. If you look up and see gay politicians being abused and told to resign simply for being gay, then you’re going to be scared.

“Celebrating diversity in all of its forms is important to show kids that actually, there is a better world out there. Wolverhampton has come so far – right from the start of the LGBT rights journey. But it still has a long way to go.

“I don’t have a clue who nominated me if I’m honest. I’m thankful to them obviously, but it’s important to remember that none of us do this for the recognition,” added Councillor Burden.

“I’m a councillor because I love my city and want to see it improve. I’m glad that while I’ve been doing that, someone has noticed and thought to nominate me.”

Following Councillor Burden’s appointment to the cabinet, leader of the council, Councillor Ian Brookfield said: “I am delighted to welcome Chris to the cabinet.

“He has trained and worked as a teacher in schools across the Black Country and is a strong believer in education and providing a better future for our young people.”

Councillor Burden takes over the cabinet role from Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre, who has been appointed deputy mayor.

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