Jonathan Slater on how DfE is living the values it promotes for others

Written by Civil Service World on 8 January 2020 in Feature
Feature

As 2020 approaches, senior figures from across government reflect on their highlights and challenges of 2019, look ahead to the next 12 months and share their favourite festive memories

Winning team: DfE’s social mobility network won the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion award

What was your highlight of 2019?

The DfE’s social mobility network winning the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion award for social mobility – striving to live for ourselves the values we promote for others.

This has been an incredible year for those committed to improving social mobility in the department, and I’m also delighted to see that DfE is among the top 25 employers in the Social Mobility Foundation Employer Index. All of this success wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of colleagues in the social mobility network across the department who have rolled up their sleeves to help out. They are all making a huge difference and helping to ensure we are a more open and diverse organisation. We have achieved so much towards improving social mobility in the department, including reaching 7,000 individuals from socio-economically deprived backgrounds to highlight who we are and what it takes to get great jobs here and thrive, undertaking a huge survey to find out who our fantastic people actually are (and of the people who responded, about a third self-identified as coming from a lower socio-economic background) and network members continuing to raise awareness and advocate the issue, including through attending team and divisional meetings, sharing thinking and perspectives.

All of this means we have huge enthusiasm for improving social mobility in the department and I look forward to seeing our people build on this progress in the next 12 months.

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?

The alignment of all of our school-supporting teams at regional level to provide a more joined-up, helpful and effective service. 

Over the last year we’ve talked to our users, listened to their feedback and made huge changes to how we deliver regionally so we can provide the best possible service. The department now has a flexible, regionally based operation delivering our core services to schools and academy trusts in one team. Bringing this work together has been a huge undertaking, affecting over 600 staff and some of the department’s largest delivery programmes. The changes will bring benefits for all schools, trusts and local authorities across the country, some of which we are already seeing. We are also strengthening links with policy teams so that new initiatives are informed by frontline experience, making them more likely to have a positive impact. 

This is only the first step in our journey to be an outstanding delivery operation. We are now working closely with schools and trusts to digitally transform our services. This will make them easier to access, reducing the burden we put on our users. It will also improve the way we work internally, so we can cut back on process and focus on supporting schools in the best way possible.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?

Providing more effective support to children most in need, whether as a result of poverty, lack of family support, or special educational needs. We made some important progress in 2019 – including our landmark Children in Need review which will improve our understanding of disadvantage, and a package of support for children leaving care ensuring, among other things, they can stay with their foster families or carers past the age of 18. We have now commenced an equally vital Special Educational Needs and Disabilities review. We need to build on this momentum and deliver results in 2020.

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth...

Sledging down the snowy hill at my dad’s technical college – why did it snow every Christmas in my childhood?

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