The Cabinet Office has moved to defend its record on diversity following accusations that the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme disproportionately favours applicants from private schools.
Government figures show that 28.6% of successful applicants to the programme in 2016 had attended independent schools, despite them making up just 18.9% of total applicants.
The figures were published in response to a parliamentary question asked by Labour MP Dan Jarvis, who told the Guardian that this “recruitment bias” was reducing the diversity of experience and opinion among civil service leaders and reducing “the effectiveness of government decision-making”.
Four years of available data show that the proportion of people who attended private schools applying to the Fast Stream has decreased since 2013, when they made up 20.5% of applicants.
Despite this, the proportion of successful Fast Stream applicants from private schools has increased over the same period, from 23.5% in 2013 to 28.6% in 2016. It was 23% in 2014.
Around 7% of UK children go to independent schools, according to the Independent Schools Council, which represents the majority of independent schools in the UK.
The publication of the figures follows a series of changes to recruitment practices at the scheme in response to a report by the Bridge Group consultancy that found that just 4.4% of successful applicants to Fast Stream hailed from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds, compared with 24% of the overall graduate population.
In 2016, verbal and numerical reasoning tests that were part of the initial online test for the programme were replaced with a situation judgement report, which is more difficult to coach for.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson told Civil Service World: “The Civil Service Fast Stream is one of the UK's most sought-after graduate schemes. In 2017 we were the highest placed public sector agency in the 2017 UK Social Mobility Employer Index and received a Highly Commended award at the UK Social Mobility Awards.
“We are working hard to continually improve the diversity of our recruitment processes and our Summer Diversity Internship Programme is just one example giving young people from diverse backgrounds an insight into the huge range of opportunities a career in the civil service offers.”
Jarvis also asked the Cabinet Office what steps were being taken to promote civil service career opportunities to people who did not attend university.
In response, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden pointed to the Fast Track Apprentice Scheme, which is “explicitly marketed as a genuine alternative to university and is promoted all year round through our schools and colleges outreach events, additional diversity outreach activities, and via our attraction site”.
He added: “The Cabinet Office recruits apprenticeships throughout the year via the CS Jobs website, where details of further Civil Service jobs can be found which are not apprenticeships but also do not require a degree as a pre-requisite.”