What are you most proud of achieving in 2017?
We went live successfully with the digital apprenticeships service in April, providing a great new service to employers, trainers and apprentices on time and within budget. We followed this up with the offer of free 30 hours’ child care to 200,000 children right across the country in September, also on time and budget. But if I have to choose one achievement, then it would have to be the amazing team effort to build a new 1000-place secondary school from scratch in just nine weeks for the students of the Kensington Aldridge Academy following the terrible Grenfell Tower fire. It was truly inspiring to hear the pupils’ description of the way in which the education community had come together to support them when I visited recently.
What was your most difficult decision in 2017?
One of many great things about being permanent secretary is that it is our ministers who have to make the difficult decisions – all I have to do is make sure they have the best possible advice and support. Sorry if this looks like I’m ducking the question, but it’s true.
What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?
Our number one priority, as set by our secretary of state, is the promotion of social mobility – giving better opportunities to those who need them most. This month we are publishing our ambitious Social Mobility Action Plan, building on the work we have already been doing with our first 12 Opportunity Areas. Internally, our challenge is to become a more user-focused department, where policy and delivery aren’t separate functions, but rather that we’re all working together to help teachers, social workers, and other professionals meet the needs of the public.
For you, no Christmas holiday is complete without...
The DfE Strictly Dance Show. It’s a great opportunity for the department to get into the Christmas spirit and have some fun. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for me to humiliate myself in front of staff for charity – I am very excited at the prospect of taking part again this year.