|English and Related Literature|
|English and Related Literature|
|Director/Senior Civil Servant|
|Department for Education|
|Government and civil service|
|Large business (250+ employees)|
More about Jonathan
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A day in the life of a Director/Senior Civil Servant in the United Kingdom
I remember the first time I sat in the officials' box in the House of Commons , thinking to myself 'I work here; this is my job now'. It was an amazing feeling and every time I have been to Parliament since, I get the same sense of excitement.
Briefly describe the organisation you work for
I am a senior civil servant in the Department for Education.
What do you do?
I am currently the Regional Director for the East of England within the DfE. My job is about improving outcomes for children, families and learners in the region, especially those who are disadvantaged or vulnerable. I oversee around 2,500 schools, driving up educational and financial standards; intervene in failing children's social care functions in local authorities; follow up area wide inspections of provision for children with special educational needs; and lead DfE programmes for the east of England. It is a very wide ranging role!
Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?
After graduation, I spent about 6 months in York doing bar work and office temping. That led me to a job at the City Council, which was my first public sector experience. I moved to London about 18 months after graduating and - again through an agency - got a junior job in what's called 'an arms length body' of government (a predecessor to Ofqual!) A year or two later, I took a secondment into central government and never went back.
Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?
If I'm honest, I didn't have many career goals when I left university. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, other than a sense that it would probably involve an office, admin or management of some kind. I found my way into government and found it was a really good fit for me. I think most people doing an arts degree prefer to keep their options open!
Describe your most memorable day at work
There have been so many. I remember the first time I sat in the officials' box in the House of Commons (the bench to the left of the Speaker), thinking to myself 'I work here; this is my job now'. It was an amazing feeling and every time I have been to Parliament since, I get the same sense of excitement. It is an enormous privilege.
Are there any challenges associated with your job?
The job *is* challenges... so much of what government does it solving knotty problems, delivering hugely complex public services, or - more recently - responding to huge national crises. I never thought I would be involved in shutting down (and then restarting) the education system!
There's not much reward outside your basic salary - so while the pay is actually pretty competitive, and you can progress quickly, there's not much in the way of bonuses and few perks. The civil service can be bureaucratic, but I see that as a challenge to navigate - not a destiny to accept!
The thing I've always found hardest is that you can experience a fair amount of cynicism. You have to accept that everyone is a critic / has an opinion on the public sector and public services generally. I have on many occasions found myself defending unpopular policies, initiatives, decisions or situations that were outside of my control. More recently, the civil service has had to contend with a series of political attacks and criticism. But that comes with the turf, and we are always fiercely neutral about our personal views! The civil service is not a place for someone with a strong political calling.
What’s your work environment and culture like?
It's an incredibly dedicated profession and standards are higher than you might expect. People are motivated by a sense of purpose, or by the conviction that public service can change things for the better. It can be an inspiring environment and being at the centre of government is fascinating. It's more like Yes Minister than The Thick of It!
In practical terms, the civil service is a modern, diverse employer, and generally does well in indexes that measure employee experience. The benefits, pension and flexibility of employment are very good.
In DfE, we have invested a lot in our culture, particularly around diversity and inclusion, and initiatives to empower and give opportunities to colleagues from a BAME background.
What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?
I think I learnt a lot of the skills I use today at York. Getting involved in the JCRC and organising events certainly taught me a lot about leadership and working as part of a team. Clear communication skills are essential when briefing and writing advice for Ministers. All those essays (at least the ones I finished) must have helped. And it's not unhelpful, in the DfE, to be able to reference a classical novel or two....
What would you like to do next with your career?
I'm not one for making 5 year plans, but I'd be happy if I was still enjoying life at the centre of government. Maybe I'll take a role outside of Whitehall at some point, but right now I don't feel a strong need to. One of the great things about the civil service is just how varied your career can be and how far you can progress. The roles are always changing - in part with the government of the day - and it keeps things fresh and interesting.
What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?
Think about what you can offer - what's your selling point? Why should someone hire you and not the next person? Are you a confident speaker? Or do you have strong analytical skills? Employers want to know what they're getting - if you to be all things to all people, your strengths won't stand out. Take some time to consider this.
Also - and I wish I'd known this when I first started out - keep things simple and to the point. People prefer plain, direct language, and not too long. Wordy, long-winded job apps are boring to read and lack impact.
What topics from students are you happy to answer questions on?
I'd be happy to advise anyone who is thinking about a career in government or the civil service.
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