26 September 2023

UNITED KINGDOM: Sacked official rounds on ex-colleagues

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A dismissed Permanent Secretary at the United Kingdom Department of Education has criticised his former colleagues, saying Whitehall is “disconnected from reality”.

Jonathan Slater has written a report for King’s College, London in which he describes senior officials as having “surprisingly little interest” in what those who use or deliver public services think.

Mr Slater (pictured) said Public Servants did not believe they were expected to listen to the electorate, and that engagement with the public was not seen as important.

“Policy far too often amounts to little more than preparing statements of intent for Ministers, rather than actually turning these into reality,” Mr Slater said.

He was sacked after overseeing the disastrous use of an algorithm to decide pupils’ grades when examinations were cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The algorithm adjusted teacher-predicted grades to take into account the past performance of schools.

That meant students at disadvantaged schools with previous poor performance got downgraded the most, no matter clever they were.

Following an outcry, the algorithm was ditched and the predicted grades were used instead.

Mr Slater, now a visiting Professor at King’s College, admitted the inability of the Department of Education to “put ourselves in the public’s shoes” was likely to loom large in the forthcoming public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.

“There was a huge disconnect between Whitehall conversations about whether vulnerable pupils should or should not go to school during lockdown and the on-the-ground reality of whether it would actually happen,” he said.

Asked for comment, a Government spokesperson said it regularly engages with the public.

“Through our reform plans we are moving 22,000 Civil Service roles out of London to ensure we better reflect the communities we serve,” the spokesperson said.

London, 11 March 2022

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