Civil service needs to dump ‘ingrained snobbery’ over qualifications, says Labour

Angela Rayner says departments should be less focused on recruiting staff with A-levels and degrees
Angela Rayner Credit: PA

By Jim Dunton

22 Jun 2021

Reforms aimed at opening the civil service up to new talent should deprioritise the importance of A-levels and degrees in addition to targeting professionals from the private sector, the Labour Party has said.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner said that the Declaration on Government Reform, launched last week, was an opportunity for ministers to end “ingrained snobbery” over qualifications in the civil service as part of their wider goals.

She said the declaration’s aim of “bringing in new skills” should result in a policy of departments only considering candidates’ academic qualifications where there was a “genuine occupational requirement” for a particular academic qualification for the job being recruited for.

Rayner – whose portfolio also includes shadowing Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who launched the declaration last week – said shifting the focus from A-levels and degrees would allow for a wider range of talented and experienced applicants for government jobs.

She said it would also send the message that it is “skills, experience and hard work that matter” more than a particular type of education or where an applicant went to school or university.

“If Michael Gove really wants to attract the most talented people to work in our civil service, then he should end the ingrained snobbery that underpins attitudes towards different types of qualifications and the outdated assumption that academic qualifications should be a basic entry requirement for government jobs,” Rayner said.

“Academic qualifications like degrees or A-Levels should only be a requirement when they are actually necessary to do the job. This will ensure that the government is more representative of the country it serves and that a greater range of talented candidates are not put off by snobbish and patronising attitudes about qualifications.”

Rayner, who studied at further education college rather than university, said the government had “long talked a good game on parity of esteem” but had failed to match its rhetoric with action – including more resources and culture change.

“Culture change requires leadership from government, setting an example to other employers and showing that it is skills, experience and hard work that matter, not a particular type of education or where somebody went to school or university” she said.

Gove marked the publication of the Government Declaration on Reform with a speech hosted by the Commission on Smart Government last week.

He emphasised that new ways to bring talent into the civil service had to be found, and suggested a range of measures – including making it easier for private-sector professionals to do a “short tour of duty” in the civil service.

The declaration states: “It should be natural for people with careers and skills built in business to serve in government for a period, and for those in public service to spend time in organisations which are not dependent on public money – so long as there is clarity on roles and responsibilities, transparent and consistent processes, effective management of any potential or perceived conflicts of interest, and induction which firmly instils the civil service code and its values.”

The declaration also promises new apprenticeships, reform of the Fast Stream, and a range of pay and performance management changes targeted at senior leaders.

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