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”.