DfE civil servants 'don't want to be stuck with FE'

The 'sexy jobs' at the Department for Education are working on schools and HE, says academic

DfE civil servants 'don't want to be stuck with FE'

We need to talk about professional development for civil servants, a top FE professor has said. 

Professor Lorna Unwin, professor emerita at the UCL Institute of Education said that education is too serious a department to be run by generalists.

She speaking at a panel event organised by the Independent Commission on the College of the Future. 


Background:  What will colleges look like in the future?

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From the DfE:  Why DfE civil servants are being sent to college


“In the DfE there’s a long standing tradition that you don’t want to get stuck with FE. The sexy jobs are with schools and higher education, and that’s a big, big problem. We have to try and address this,” she said. 

She admitted that she wasn’t sure how it would work, and suggested that perhaps there would need to be conversations at cabinet office level – but said that traditionally civil servants are generalists, and that it needed to change. 

In the most recent reshuffle, Gavin Williamson became education secretary – and personally took on responsibility for the FE remit. 

After the event, Professor Unwin told Tes: "In my comments, I referred, in a rather crude way, to a lingering perception that FE is the Cinderella of the DfE - but the reality is that today civil servants are working hard to give FE the status it deserves."

In April this year, permanent secretary at the Department for Education, Jonathan Slater, wrote in Tes about a 'FE Immersion Project' in which civil servants shadowed teachers, senior leaders and students. 

He said that the the three-day experience ensured that DfE staff really got a feel for how FE colleges and providers work.

He wrote: "It is a fantastic opportunity for our staff to experience all that further education has to offer – from speaking to and observing teachers delivering training to construction apprentices, to speaking with students about their studies and career aims.

"It ensures that the department keeps up to date with who is really using these services and really understands the day-to-day running of these institutions – not just the high-level challenges they face.

"After all, the demands of further education colleges, apprenticeship providers and adult and community education providers can vary widely, and we’re keen to help support each provider individually with the end-to-end delivery of policy where possible."

The College of the Future 

The Independent Commission on the College of the Future – supported by Assocation of Colleges, Colleges Scotland, Colleges Wales, the colleges in Northern Ireland, City & Guilds, the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL), Jisc, NCFE, NOCN and Pearson – asks: what do we want and need from our colleges from 2030 onwards? 

The seminar was just one of many roundtable and workshop events held throughout this year by the commission. A report and recommendations is expected in spring 2020.

The DfE has been contacted for comment. 

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