Former NSN staffer to be policy adviser to Gavin Williamson

Katharine Howell, a former staffer at the New Schools Network and current aide to the leader of the House of Lords, has been appointed as a special adviser to Gavin Williamson.

Government sources have confirmed that Howell will take up the policy SpAd role left vacant by Jon Yates, who served under Williamson’s predecessor Damian Hinds.

Howell is currently an aide to Baroness Evans, the leader of the House of Lords and a former director of the NSN, which exists to help set up and promote free schools.

Her appointment is likely to raise eyebrows in some parts of the schools community at a time when the relationship between the Conservative government and the NSN – an apolitical charity – is already seen as too cozy.

Besides Evans, other former NSN directors who moved on to big government jobs include Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to David Cameron, and Nick Timothy, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff.

Williamson’s other special adviser is Richard Holden, who previously advised defence secretary Michael Fallon and transport secretary Chris Grayling. He was appointed earlier this month as Williamson’s media SpAd, replacing Meg Powell-Chandler, who has joined Boris Johnson’s team in Downing Street.

Both Howell and Holden are experienced Conservative Party officials. They have both served at Conservative Central Headquarters, Howell as a briefing adviser between 2015 and 2016 and Holden as deputy head of press in the early years of the coalition government.