Civil service top brass launch schools volunteering call

DfE perm sec Susan Acland-Hood and chief people officer Rupert McNeil urge officials to “inspire next generation”
Susan Acland-Hood takes part in a virtual careers session with primary school children in Warrington. Screengrab: YouTube/Culcheth Community Primary

By Jim Dunton

18 Feb 2022

Civil servants are being encouraged to volunteer their time to talk to schoolchildren about their careers in a bid to raise aspirations among pupils – and showcase the opportunities available in government work.

The call came in an internal blog this week written by Department for Education permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood and civil service chief people officer Rupert McNeil.

They urged officials across the civil service to use some of their five days of annual volunteering leave to “make a crucial difference to inspiring the next generation”.

McNeil – who will leave his role in April to return to the private sector – said both he and Acland-Hood had taken part in interactive virtual sessions talking about their jobs with schoolchildren.

“Sessions typically last an hour, with four or five volunteers from the public and private sectors also taking part,” he said.

“You will be answering questions from pupils such as: Do you use maths or English in your job? Do you work in a team? Or What was your first job?”

McNeil and Acland-Hood said giving young people the chance to meet a diverse range of people beyond their immediate networks and family could be “transformational” in helping them access “an amazing range of role models”, regardless of their background or where they live.

The two officials said working with primary schools could also help the civil service to “tackle tired stereotypes” and ensure departments can access a wide pool of talent.

“By volunteering, you can offer young people, irrespective of their background, disability or ethnicity, the chance to hear about careers in A Modern Civil Service,” they said, referring to the civil service "vision" launched last year to accompany the Declaration on Government Reform.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to show the civil service as a place where people do interesting work that makes a real difference.”

The blog includes a brief clip of a virtual question-and-answer session that Acland-Hood took part in with year-five pupils at a primary school in Warrington last year, alongside a pilot, a physiotherapist and a plant geneticist.

Asked to guess what Acland-Hood’s job was, pupils thought she might “help a children’s minister with the paperwork”.

“That’s a brilliant, excellent guess,” she replied. “I think year five might have cracked this. What I do is I run the whole of the Department for Education. And that means I work for the secretary of state for education.”

She went on to say: “Sometimes the way you think can make truth happen, so if you think you can do something, then normally you can. So always have that positive attitude. You can do anything you really set your mind to that you want to do.”

Acland-Hood and McNeil urged civil servants to register to volunteer in schools via the online match-making system Inspiring the Future,  which is run by charity Education and Employers. It hosted the event the DfE perm sec took part in.

They also said civil servants should consider the win-win aspects of volunteering to be school or college governors.

“As a civil servant you have sought-after skills which are essential to supporting and challenging the school leadership to improve outcomes,” they said.

“Governance is a strategic board level role and also a great opportunity to support your own professional development and expand your professional network.”

Education and Employers chief executive Nick Chambers said a University of Houston study had found children from the age of six often ruled out career options for themselves because of the ingrained stereotypical views they had. He added that new UK research showed such mindsets were difficult to change later and influenced subjects studied and career paths taken.

Chambers said there was a clear need to much more work on careers at primary-school level to encourage pupils from less advantaged backgrounds to think about their future options.

“Volunteers from the world of work provide young people with inspiration, they help broaden their horizons, raise aspirations and increase motivation which leads to improved attainment,” he said.

“Our interactive virtual volunteering programme has enabled young people across the country to connect with an amazing range of volunteers and such is the demand that we need many people to get involved.

“Even just one hour a year talking to young people about their job and career route can make a big difference.”

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