New policy role for former government education adviser Jonathan Simons

Former government adviser and Policy Exchange head of education Jonathan Simons has joined the policy and PR consultancy Public First.

Simons will lead education and social policy work at the firm, which was set up by former Department for Education chief spin doctor James Frayne and New Schools Network founder Rachel Wolf.

The move marks a return to UK public policy for Simons, who served as director of policy and research at global charity The Varkey Foundation for most of the past two years. Prior to that he was head of education at Policy Exchange, a right-leaning think tank founded by Michael Gove.

Simons told Schools Week it was too early to say which areas he will focus on, but said he’ll help education organisations navigate government policy and help shape their own policy work.

He stated he was attracted to Public First because “it’s an agency that builds on the best elements of a serious think tank”.

“Many agencies produce so-called ‘thought leadership’ but Public First’s team produces high-quality public policy research which helps clients to truly shape the policy space they operate in.”

Simons will also work again with a number of former colleagues. Frayne was a director of Policy Exchange before he left to set up Public First in 2016, while Wolf is also a former government adviser who worked for David Cameron. Gabriel Milland, a partner at Public First, served as head of communications at the DfE under Gove.

Husband and wife team Frayne and Wolf were also involved in founding the Parents and Teachers for Excellence, which claims to be a grassroots campaign set up to lobby for education reform, including a knowledge-based curriculum, rigorous assessment and strict behaviour policies.

However, Schools Week has previously reported that many of the group’s members have political links, mostly to the Conservative party and in particular Michael Gove.

In a statement issued by Public First, Wolf said: “Anyone that has worked in the education policy world in the last decade will know of Jonathan’s exceptional work in the field and we’re looking forward to him strengthening our rapidly growing policy team.”

Schools Week was told the organisation is funded by client contracts.

Simons became a policy adviser to the Treasury in 2003 under the government’s civil service fast stream programme.

After four years, he moved to the Number 10 strategy unit and served for more than three years as a senior policy adviser and head of education to prime ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron.