|English and Related Literature|
|English and Related Literature|
|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 Senior Civil Servant in the United Kingdom
A senior civil servant in the Department for Education, delivering the academies programme
What I do
I am a senior civil servant in the Department for Education. I am currently Acting Director of the Regional Schools Commissioner's Office, for South East and South London. In practice, this means finding academy sponsors for schools causing concern, converting schools to academy status, monitoring the performance of open academies (and intervening to tackle failure) and managing the DfE's relationship with major national academy trusts. I lead a division of around 40 people across London and Croydon.
Skills I use and how I developed them
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.
What I like most
Being at the centre of government is fascinating. I have worked in roles directly supporting Ministers (one of my early jobs was private secretary to a Minister) and working on legislation in and around Parliament is a privilege that you just won't get in any other job.
What I like least
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 very few perks!
The civil service can be bureaucratic, but I see that as a challenge to navigate - not a destiny to accept!
What surprised me most
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. What surprised me the most was the first time I sat in the officials' box in the House of Commons (the bench to the left of the Speaker) and realised 'I work here; this is my job now'
My career goals when I 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.
My career history
I have spent the majority of my career in central government, mostly the Department for Education, but also the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The civil service is a very wide ranging organisation in which you move regularly (typically every 18 months or so) and do a number of different jobs. My past roles have included reforms to teachers’ pay, new legislation or children with special educational needs, 14-19 qualifications delivery, policy relating to the national curriculum and working for Ministers.
What has helped my career to progress
Networking has played a big part - building up a network of contacts who could advise me and support me as I took on new roles. I wasn't on the Fast Stream; instead, I worked my way up by picking high-profile roles and taking opportunities as they presented themselves. I have also benefitted from the advice of mentors, who helped to raise my own ambition and push me just that little bit further. More recently in my career, I have taken part in some excellent talent programmes, which have helped me move into senior management.
Courses taken since graduation
Nothing formal, but I have benefited from some very good leadership programmes within the civil service. As a middle manager, I went on the Preparing for Top Management programme, based at the (sadly now closed) National School for Government and more recently an internal DfE scheme for Deputy Directors. This year, I successfully applied for a place on the cross-Whitehall service Senior Leadership Scheme, working with Ashridge Business School.
How my studies have helped my career
It is not unhelpful, in the Department for Education, to be able to reference classic literature...
What surprised me about my career so far
Just how varied and challenging it can be - and also how far I could progress. The roles are always changing - in part with the government of the day - and it keeps things fresh and interesting.
Where I hope to be in 5 years
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.
My advice to students considering work
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. Know and embrace thyself!
I'd be happy to advise anyone who is thinking about a career in government or the civil service.
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