Should a Political Adviser be on the Civil Service Payroll at the DfE?

Allan Beavis's picture
The coalition have appointed a string of party employees to civil service roles, including Sam Freedman, who helped devise the Tories' free schools policy in opposition, now an adviser on the civil service pay roll in the DfE. All civil service appointees go through competitive processes to get a job and must abide by a code dictating that they perform all functions impartially, yet it seems that the grey area in which Freedman operates has allowed him to be in breach of such regulations. Should this be a cause for concern?

He regularly uses his personal Twitter profile to promote and defend government policy, the latest being Gove’s plan to raise floor targets to 50% . This obsession with results follows on from some tweets last week, where he showed his support and admiration for some (in)famous US school reformers, all of whom active in the Charter School movement, by tweeting some interesting articles on them.

I wonder if his promotion of these American “reformers” on Twitter are intended to persuade us of the likely success of the coalition government’s policies as they implement their own reforms, inspired to a large degree by the US model? And should a civil servant be engaging in party political work when he is supposed to be impartial?

Here are three tweets:

“One of the heroes of the charter school movement John King has been appointed State Education Commissioner in New York”

“Quite brilliant article in Atlantic Monthly by Joel Klein on US education reform.

“Given what (Michelle) Rhee/ (Joel) Klein have been up against not sure what other courses were open to them.”

John King co-founded Roxbury Prep, a charter school in Massachusetts and ran Uncommon Schools, a network of charters based in New York. He replaces David Steiner, who along with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, presided over the short and embarrassing tenure of Cathie Black, who had no experience of education at all, as Chancellor of New York City Schools. Her predecessor was Joel Klein, who left to become CEO of the Educational Division at Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Klein’s article reads like a Gove Handbook to School Reform. He advocates that consequences on teachers and schools is the only solution to improving education. So teachers are rewarded with more pay if the kids do better in tests or they get fired if they don’t. Similarly, schools that “fail” should just get “replaced” as they were when he was in New York. He goes on to claim that teachers unions acted solely out of self interest (to protect their member’s jobs) when they opposed his programme and plays the race card by asking how the NAACP could defend schools that were consistently graduating fewer than half their African American children.

Free-market jargon litters his article (“consumer preference in a largely monopolistic system”) and Gove’s financial incentives offered for Academy conversion resonates with the parallel of Obama’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top Fund, which requires states to compete for big federal grants and rewards accountability systems that measure whether teachers add value. Punishing teachers and a fight for survival aren’t enough though - it seems technology and sitting kids in front of interactive computer games is an extension of the “radical”, “innovative” and “risky” programme that he helped develop in New York Charters. Self interest? Klein now sells educational technology for Murdoch…

I’m not sure what Freedman means by what Klein and Rhee were “up against”, but Klein’s praise for Michelle Rhee is founded on her alleged success in improving test results in the low-performing schools in Washington DC during her four years in charge there as Education Chancellor. She is a Gove dream made flesh – a national spokesman for the effort to subject state education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer/parent choice. Her theory seemed to be -push incentives and sanctions hard enough, then the results will go up.

What Klein hasn’t mentioned is what she actually did was encourage desperate behaviour by heads and teachers trying to save their jobs, meet their targets and comply with her demands. Neither did he – or to my knowledge Freedman – mention that her credibility was recently called into question by USA Today, who revealed possible widespread test fraud in the D.C. schools while she was in charge. According to Educational Historian Diane Ravitch , Rhee’s policies produced cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.

Bloomberg promised stability in New York schools, but under Klein, the enforced closings of schools were commonplace, replaced by scores of small schools and privately managed charter schools, all in the name of introducing a free-market approach to public education. Destruction is now the rule, not stability. The Department treats schools like stores that can be easily closed and opened with a new name, rather than vital public institutions that need help and should be improved. Imagine the impact on schoolchildren and see it happening here in the near future when schools coming in below the 50% target are obliterated.

Perhaps Freedman meant Klein/Rhee were up against a failing system in America. If so, then his tweets defend and propagate the government spin to voters here – that our school system (of which maintained schools are still in the majority) is broken, no longer even worthy of a page on the DfE website! . He won’t therefore be telling us about how the destructive policies of Joel Klein et al have torn apart America’s school system without offering any clear vision for its future. It's an inconvenient truth a little too close for comfort and not for public consumption.
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 13:07

From the Civil Service code:

"The civil service is required to be politically impartial, and able loyally and with equal
commitment to serve Governments of all political persuasions. This means that:
you may not publicly defend the decisions and views of your Ministers (as distinct
from explaining them), including by writing to newspapers", I presume that "writing to newspapers includes publishing views by other media such as blogs and Twitter.

The full code is here:

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 13:11

It seems there are other Tory party sympathisers on the civil service pay roll:

So much for impartiality.

Natacha Kennedy's picture
Mon, 20/06/2011 - 21:06

Does anyone know how to complain about the behaviour of a civil servant they think is behaving partially?

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 20/06/2011 - 22:03

What might help is if Sam Freedman answered and confirmed if he is SPAD or civil servant. He is not on the SPAD list but I believe he is paid out of civil service payroll.

Alex Jones's picture
Sun, 30/10/2011 - 11:30

Sam Freedman is also on the governing body of Woodside High in Wood Green, as a parent governor. He is not a parent of a child in the school.

The rules say that if it hasn't been possible to recruit parent governors, any parent who has a school age child can be co-opted. Does this apply to him? Teachers in the school say it doesn't and his Twitter feed would seem to back them up.

Woodside aced an OFSTED last spring. It got outstanding when its exam results stood at 45% 5 A-C including English and Maths. No limiting judgement for them, then. And now it wants to become an academy.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 30/10/2011 - 11:55

Alex - I believe Sam Freedman is the father of twins. According to the stuff on Twitter he asked a parent Q re getting his 21 month-old into the bath. I don't know whether the 21 month-old is one half of the twins or not. If she is then it would show that he's not the father of a school age child and if you're correct about the rules of parent governors then he shouldn't be there.

One question arising from the Twitter bumf - if he's now a senior policy adviser at the DfE and on the civil servants' pay roll, should he be making such overtly political comments on Twitter? I thought civil servants had to abide by a code of impartiality?

I'm not a tweeter - one glance at the above Twitter twaddle (I think it might be called a "feed") has confirmed my decision not to be bothered.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 31/10/2011 - 08:44

A couple of months ago I did a trawl of all Michael Gove's speeches to see if he ever mentioned any maintained ( non academy) schools. The only one I could find was Woodside High!!

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