Meet Nick Gibb’s new ‘teacher in residence’

If you’ve heard the schools minister Nick Gibb deliver a speech in the past few years, there’s a strong chance it was written by one of his “teachers in residence”.

The scheme, which sees serving teachers employed as civil servants by the Department for Education (DfE) for periods of between eight and 12 months, has been running for more than two years, but has recently sparked controversy and questions over the recruitment process.

Gibb’s newest resident teacher is Rory Gribbell, a maths teacher who has just finished his two years with the Teach First programme at Cantell school near Southampton.

He is also a former Labour Party member who has been active in the Conservative Education Society since declaring last December that teaching had driven him to the right of politics – due to the left’s “irrational opposition” to academies and free schools.

Gribbell’s short tenure as a teacher, and the similarity between his background and that of his predecessor Robert Peal, is the main source of the criticism levelled at the government over his appointment.

Peal, like Gribbell, trained through Teach First, before completing a year as a history teacher at the West London free school, where he is due to resume employment next month.

Peal is also a prominent writer with views linked to the right. In 2014, his book Progressively Worse was published by the right-leaning think tank Civitas, and he has praised the reforms of former education secretary Michael Gove in several blog posts and articles.

The DfE has insisted that a proper recruitment process is observed for all appointments to the post, which requires the holder to write ministerial speeches for Gibb and advise him on policy.

“Mr Gibb is drawing from the same narrow pool of right-wing Tories as he did before” – Angela Rayner MP

But the selection of two ex-Teach First participants with limited classroom experience and links to the Conservative Party has prompted Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, to accuse the government of an “absolute abuse of public money”, and call for an investigation by the House of Commons education committee.

“Mr Gibb is drawing from the same narrow pool of right-wing Tories as he did before,” she told Schools Week. “He is not listening to the vast majority of teachers and educationalists, but listening instead to people with a right-wing agenda.

“Why doesn’t he go and hire a headteacher from a secondary state school in a deprived area and find out about the real problems facing schools? That would be a far better use of public money, than giving it to his right-wing mates.”

Schools Week is aware of a further two former teachers in residence, both of whom had significantly more teaching experience than Gribbell and Peal, but in selective schools.

Dr David James, a former director of Wellington College and deputy headteacher at independent Bryanston school in Dorset, served in the role from July 2014 to January 2015.

And James Simpson, assistant headteacher and former head of history and politics at Sir William Borlase’s grammar school, in Buckinghamshire, who once worked at the prestigious Dr Challoner’s grammar school in Amersham, did the job from May to December 2014.

A spokesperson for the government said any suggestion that teachers in residence were not appointed “fully in line with civil service recruitment guidelines” was “wilfully misleading”, but declined to say where the job had been advertised or for how long.

“We do not comment on individual junior civil service appointments,” he said. “We have numerous former teachers in the department who are vital in helping us to develop policy in a way that works for the profession.”

As civil servants, teachers in residence are bound by the Civil Service Code and have to work in a way which is “politically impartial”.



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  1. I quite like the idea of teachers being seconded to the DfE (of course partly this would be inevitably biased towards those with few ties, or those already in London). But this isn’t how it would work best.

    Imagine if experienced teachers, say with a minimum of five years of classroom experience, could apply to do a year sabbatical. This would be broken down into several placements, maybe even a pick&mix approach. Four months with Ofsted, perhaps, then four months supporting the writing of textbooks and resources. Time with a subject association, so for physics teachers the ASE or IOP. A term shadowing education researchers get that point of view, or working with an exam board to get a better grasp of what is often an opaque process. And time at the DfE, giving a real classroom perspective to discussions and policy implementation.

    The cost of this to the DfE would be minimal, compared to many other initiatives. But imagine the fortnightly blogs such a teacher could produce and how their insight would benefit teachers, while their genuine ‘chalkface’ experience would benefit all these different associated groups.

  2. Bit of a soft option, isn’t it, being a ‘teacher in residence’. Churning out speeches which accord with the prejudices of Nick Gibb isn’t a smidgen as difficult as actual teaching.
    Perhaps I could apply for the next residency. Don’t fancy my chances, though, I’ve never written for ConservativeEducation. And I’m not a ‘tiger teacher’ – bit of a pussy cat, really. But it served me and (most of) my pupils well enough for 20 years. But two decades of actual teaching is obviously too long to become a DfE ‘teacher in residence’.

  3. Gerry P

    Strange how the current set of policies are poorly informed by relevant experience. Now we see where they come from is it any wonder that while radical, most of the policies have little positive impact to the reality of state school education. What is needed are less opinions and more of a science based methodology on what works to improve learning, backed up with the resources to make them happen. When will someone in the government take responsibility and admit they do not know enough about learning and research it properly.

  4. There seems to be a revolving door between a Conservative DfE, Policy Exchange, and Teach First. Normally inbreeding from a narrow gene pool leads to extinction. Gove and Morgan have already become victims. With Labour putting up such a poor show over many years, perhaps Theresa May is our best hope for further Natural Selection and the evolution of a better education system.