'Never been bored': DfE’s Susan Acland-Hood on a year of filled with childcare plans, strikes and RAAC

The Department for Education perm sec looks back at a year of big projects – and reveals her mince pie secret 
"The autumn started off dominated by our work to manage RAAC." Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By CSW staff

18 Dec 2023


Tell us three words that sum up your 2023...  

Never been bored. 

...and why you chose those words  

Education, skills and children’s social care are the most amazing mission to have – we are the department for realising potential. 

At the beginning of the year, we set out our plans for reforming children’s social care and special educational needs and disabilities – and then in the Spring Budget brought forward plans for a massive expansion of childcare, which will give every working family a free childcare entitlement from the moment maternity leave ends until children start school. That’s meant a lot of focus through the year on those three massive programmes that have the potential to change so many lives.  

The first half of the year was also dominated by industrial action, and negotiation to seek to bring it to an end. Resolving the strikes in July was a really important moment; and combined with a successful exam results season (including with a better approach to results for vocational subjects), we felt well set up for September. 

But nothing ever goes exactly to plan – and the combination of new cases over the summer and our determination not to take risks in the school estate meant the autumn started off dominated by our work to manage RAAC. I’m proud of how quickly we moved, and how few schools saw significant disruption – and that we’ve got a clear path to removing all the RAAC. But it was definitely a challenging and busy time, especially as we were, in parallel, planning the new Advanced British Standard with the prime minister – opening up a new way of thinking about 16-18 education, with more teaching hours, more breadth, and a bringing-together of academic and technical paths.  

Across the whole year we’ve also kept delivering on skills and playing our part in economic growth and productivity – exceeding our targets for skills bootcamps, and massively improving apprentice completion rates, as well as getting Local Skills Improvement Plans in place across the whole country.  

As ever, it’s been hugely rewarding to work with brilliant colleagues in the department, across government, and in our amazing schools, colleges, nurseries and social work teams, as well as with employers up and down the country.  

What are your organisational and personal priorities for 2024?  

Our priorities as a department for 2024 are to keep building the nation’s skills, by bringing employers and the skills system ever closer together; to keep improving educational standards, and narrowing the disadvantage gap; and to give every child the best possible start in life – including by delivering our reform programmes for childcare expansion, children’s social care reform, and special educational needs, disability and alternative provision.  

As we do that, and especially as we try to do that efficiently as well as effectively, I’m particularly looking forward to exploring how data and digital, including AI, could transform the way we work for the better, both inside the department and across the whole system. Our real-time data collection for attendance is helping everyone see much more quickly and immediately what works; and we’ve also been exploring how AI could reduce teacher workload by cutting administrative tasks for teachers.  

Outside work, my personal priority is to spend as much time as possible with my teenage girls. I can suddenly see the moment coming when they’ll spread their wings – and though that’s wonderful, I’m realising how much I’ll miss them.  

What’s your favourite festive treat, and what makes you say: "Bah, humbug"?  

I’m partial to a Terry’s Chocolate Orange… but I definitely say "bah, humbug" to the new mint-flavoured variety. And don’t tell anyone, but, secretly, I don’t really like mince pies. 

This is part of CSW's annual perm secs roundup. Read all the entries to the 2023 roundup here

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