A senior civil servant in the Department for Education, delivering the academies programme

About me

Jonathan D.
English and Related Literature
English and Related Literature
BA
Derwent
1999
United Kingdom

About this profile

Senior Civil Servant
Department for Education
United Kingdom
Government and civil service
Large business (250+ employees)
2001
18,500
72,000

About the job

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'

Finding and applying for the job

How I looked for work

When I first moved to London, I got all of my jobs through agencies. I appreciate that things are different now, but in 2000 it was easy to find temp work and for that to lead to a permanent position. I started in an agency of DfE, got a secondment into the central department and never went back.

How I found out about the job

Recruitment agency

The recruitment process

Most civil service jobs are filled the same way - a written application (which is then sifted and scored against others) followed by a panel interview, which tests your skills and experience.

My career

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

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!

Contacting me

I'd be happy to advise anyone who is thinking about a career in government or the civil service.


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