Politics

DfE brain drain as third senior adviser announces departure

Dr Tim Leunig joins David Thomas and Patrick Spencer in exodus from Gillian Keegan's senior team

Dr Tim Leunig joins David Thomas and Patrick Spencer in exodus from Gillian Keegan's senior team

Gillian Keegan will lose a third key policy adviser this summer after long-serving government adviser Dr Tim Leunig announced plans to join a think tank.

The former Department for Education chief scientific adviser, who has been back at the department part-time since January, announced this week he will join Public First.

It comes after Schools Week revealed that David Thomas, a senior adviser on schools policy, left the department last week to run a fledgling maths charity founded by a finance billionaire.

Patrick Spencer, who advised Keegan on social care, left the DfE at the end of April and is now director of The Jobs Foundation. It means three of four senior policy advisers to the education secretary have either left or announced plans to leave.

Nigel Thomas, who covers further education and skills policy and splits his time between the department and the Gatsby Foundation, remains in post.

This all comes as the DfE is moving forward with key reforms, including its academies regulatory and commissioning review, its SEND improvement plan, and its response to the MacAlister review of children’s social care.

Earlier this year, Schools Week reported that Indra Morris, a senior civil servant overseeing the SEND review, is leaving just as implementation of the long-awaited reforms begin. Andrew McCully, the DfE’s director-general for schools, retired in March.

Leunig joined the DfE as a policy adviser in 2012, becoming its chief scientific adviser and analyst in 2014. He left in 2017 to advise the environment department, before returning to the DfE as an expert adviser between 2018 and 2019.

After three years at the Treasury he joined the Department of Health and Social Care last July. Since January, he has split his time between health, education, environment, and the levelling-up department.

Working in government ‘a huge privilege’

Leunig said “working in the centre of government is a huge privilege, but it is time to move on”.

“I am grateful to all my civil service colleagues, and the ministers that we have worked for over the last 12 years.”

It is understood that both Leunig and Thomas had to have their appointments signed off by the government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), which considers whether jobs for former ministers and senior civil servants meet appointment rules.

David Thomas
David Thomas

Thomas, a co-founder of the Oak National Academy, left the department to become chief executive of Mathematics Education for Social Mobility and Excellence (MESME).

The charity aims to help double the number of PhD students in the mathematical sciences at a UK university by 2035. It was founded by Alex Gerko, a Russian-born financial trader who was named as the UK’s largest taxpayer this year – contributing an estimated near £500 million.

A job advert for Thomas’s replacement at the DfE offered an £80,000 salary and the opportunity to “work on the development and delivery of the government’s flagship policies”.

“This role has a particular focus on schools and including the school system, school improvement, multi-academy trusts, funding and accountability, literacy and numeracy, attendance and edtech.”

Leunig’s appointment at Public First adds to the think tank’s slate of former government education advisers. Founder Rachel Wolf and head of education Jonathan Simons both worked in Downing Street, while co-founder James Frayne was head of communications at the DfE.

A DfE spokesperson said Keegan was “grateful for the dedication and expertise her senior policy advisors continue to bring to the department and wishes those leaving the Civil Service the very best in their future endeavours”.

Latest education roles from

Lecturer B – Visual Arts & Interactive Media

Lecturer B – Visual Arts & Interactive Media

Bolton College

Lecturer A Maths (full and part time opportunities)

Lecturer A Maths (full and part time opportunities)

Bolton College

Lecturer B Maths (2 full time positions)

Lecturer B Maths (2 full time positions)

Bolton College

Lecturer A English – full time and part time opportunities

Lecturer A English – full time and part time opportunities

Bolton College

Dyslexia Advisor – Access Arrangements

Dyslexia Advisor – Access Arrangements

Bolton College

Lecturer A – Catering

Lecturer A – Catering

Bolton College

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

Navigating NPQ Funding Cuts: Discover Leader Apprenticeships with NPQs

Recent cuts to NPQ funding, as reported by Schools Week, mean 14,000 schools previously eligible for scholarships now face...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How do you tackle the MIS dilemma?

With good planning, attention to detail, and clear communication, switching MIS can be a smooth and straightforward process, but...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial

More from this theme

Politics

Meet the ministers: Portfolios of Starmer’s DfE lineup confirmed

Who is doing what at the DfE under the Labour government

Billy Camden
Politics

King’s Speech 2024: What’s in it for schools?

Labour government will introduce a raft of schools policies through its 'children's wellbeing bill'

Freddie Whittaker
Politics

Eight things we learned from first Phillipson sector address

The new education secretary talked Ofsted, her curriculum review, behaviour and support staff in a webinar for school workers

Freddie Whittaker
Politics

No teacher pay decision this week, says Phillipson

New education secretary says funding allocations for 2025-26 delayed too

Freddie Whittaker

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *