Exclusive: Gibb adviser promoted in DfE shake-up

Tes also understands former headteacher Mark Lehain is tipped to be new Department for Education special adviser

Amy Gibbons

Will Bickford Smith

The policy adviser to former schools minister Nick Gibb will now report directly to the education secretary, in a shake-up of the chain of command in Sanctuary Buildings.

Will Bickford Smith, who advised Mr Gibb across his portfolio – with a particular focus on delivering controversial reforms to teacher training – has this month been made schools policy adviser to the new secretary of state, Nadhim Zahawi, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Tes understands that the role of policy adviser to the schools minister, held by a civil servant, has been scrapped for Mr Gibb’s successor Robin Walker.


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Teach First graduate Will Bickford Smith taught citizenship and A-level politics before becoming a management consultant and then joining the Department for Education (DfE) in 2018.

Jonathan Simons, who was a senior policy adviser on education in the prime minister’s strategy unit between 2007 and 2011, said the move to cut the dedicated adviser to the schools minister was “reflective of Nick Gibb's unique role” in the DfE.

Mr Gibb has been seen as central to key policy changes over the past 10 years of Conservative or Conservative-led governments.

Moving Mr Bickford Smith to Mr Zahawi’s office would give the new education secretary “more expert capacity”, Mr Simons said.

As well as working on teacher recruitment and T levels at the DfE, Mr Bickford Smith has commented publicly on the importance of “evidence-based” behaviour strategies.

In a blog last year, he said the biggest challenge he had faced as a teacher had been behaviour because “every lesson felt like a constant battle to be listened to”.

The emphasis at the time was on managing this through creating “engaging” lessons, he wrote, going on to praise “evidence-based methods to manage behaviour effectively, drawing on the work of experts like Doug Lemov and Tom Bennett”.

Former head tipped to be special adviser

Meanwhile, it is understood that former headteacher Mark Lehain, currently director of the Campaign for Common Sense, is the frontrunner for a special adviser role at the DfE following Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Lehain previously stood as the Conservative candidate for Newcastle North in 2019 but lost out to Labour’s Catherine McKinnell.

Prior to that, he was director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, and principal of Bedford Free School.

Special advisers are political appointees and therefore not impartial.

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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