He went to Hampton Grammar School (became the independent Hampton School in 1975) on Hanworth Road in Hampton then Kingston Technical College. He was educated at the London School of Economics (BSc Economics 1965) and at the University of London (MSc 1967). He became a lecturer at the University of Wales, Swansea in 1966 and remained there until his election to parliament in 1979.
Sheerman unsuccessfully contested Taunton in the October 1974 election, and became the MP for Huddersfield East from 1979-83 and for Huddersfield since the 1983 general election. At the 2005 election, despite a swing of 7.1% from Sheerman to his Liberal Democrat challenger, his majority was still 8,351.
From 1983-8 he was the Labour spokesperson on education and employment; for Home Affairs (as Shadow Deputy Home Secretary) from 1988-92; and for Disabled People's Rights from 1992-4. He has been Chair of the House of Commons Education and Skills select committee since 2001. The Committee is often critical of government policy.
He is Chair of the Labour Forum for Criminal Justice and of the Cross-Party Advisory Group on Preparation for European Monetary Union. Outside parliament, he is Chair of the National Educational Research and Development Trust, and a trustee of the National Children's Centre. His political interests are listed as trade, industry, finance, further education, education, economy, the European Union, South America and the United States. His recreations include walking, biography and films.
Barry Sheerman married Pamela Elizabeth Brenchley in 1965 in north Surrey, with whom he has one son and three daughters. He lives in a nearby village called Norwood Green, which is outside the constituency town of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and in Calderdale.