John Cope, currently head of education and skills at the CBI, will join the agency as its deputy director for education.
While at the CBI, Cope lead its policy and campaign work on education, skills and social justice for the business organisation's nearly 200,000 members.
He started his career as a researcher for former shadow secretary of state for universities David Willets, and served Conservative MP Pauline Latham as her head of office before becoming an adviser to Nicky Morgan during her time as Secretary of State for Education.
Cope has also been a political press adviser to the Conservative Party and head of policy at tourism body Visit England.
Before moving to the CBI, Cope worked for the Education Policy Institute think tank, as director of comms and external affairs.
Working with all political parties, John has represented the CBI on education in the national media as well as on the BBC's education advisory board and the government's National Retraining Partnership, among other high-profile groups.
At Public First, Cope will expand the agency's higher-education practice, whose clients include Pearson, Oxford University, Universities UK, the University of Nottingham and Cranfield University.
His work for education clients will include economic modelling, policy analysis and strategic counsel.
Cope said: "With education firmly top of the agenda under Boris Johnson – [and] a range of opportunities but also challenges on the horizon – I am looking forward to continuing to work on these complex issues and providing insight and expertise to Public First's clients."
Tom Waterhouse will also join the agency, from Crown Estates, as an associate director in its campaigns team. He brings experience of running local, regional and national campaigns, including as deputy head of ground operations for the Vote Leave campaign.
He has been a senior parliamentary adviser to Conservative MP Nick de Bois, a Conservative councillor in Enfield, and a consultant for Portland before moving to his current role, where he leads on stakeholder engagement for the CBI.
He said: "From 15 years of campaigning experience I know that if you want to change policy, you have to show that the public are on your side. I'm thrilled to be joining their team and having the opportunity to work with their wide range of exciting and forward-thinking clients."
Both Waterhouse and Cope will take up their new roles at Public First in January.
James Frayne, founding partner at Public First, said: "The addition of John and Tom to our growing team will add major heft to our grassroots campaigns and education policy practice. The phrase "rising stars" is often overused, but you only have to look at their careers to date to see that in both their cases it is clearly warranted. We can't wait to have them on board."
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