Oak co-founder appointed DfE policy adviser

The Astrea trust regional director joins the department on secondment

The Astrea trust regional director joins the department on secondment


A co-founder of the Oak online school has been appointed as a policy adviser to Nadhim Zahawi.

David Thomas will take up the role on a part-time basis – joining the department on a secondment from the Astrea academy trust, where he will remain a regional director.

The department said Thomas brings “unique experience and expertise to the role”.

Thomas, previously strategy director at Inspiration Trust and a principal at its Jane Austen College, said: “As we build back from the pandemic it’s never been more important to make sure all young people leave schools and colleges having received a world class education, regardless of their background or where they’re from. 

“That’s why I’m proud and pleased to be bringing my experience in schools to this role. The Secretary of State and the department have asked me to bring the voice of teachers and school staff into policymaking and I will always have that at the forefront of my mind.”

He will take up the vacant civil servant position left by Chris Paterson, who left the department after seven years to join the Education Endowment Foundation earlier this year. Although as Thomas has a part-time role, he will have a smaller brief focusing on recovery, academies and remote education.

Thomas was recognised for his work at the Oak National Academy, where he was curriculum lead, with an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours last year.

Thomas spent three years at Jane Austen College. He taught for four years at Westminster Academy up to August 2015, where he had a brief spell as stragegy adviser at the DfE.

While at the department he helped design the new assessment system to replace national curriculum levels, his Linked In profile states.

Thomas also worked for two-and-a-half years as an engagement manager at management consultants Mckinsey and Company from 2015.

The former maths teacher completed his PGCE with Teach First at the Institute of Education.

Thomas joins fellow Teach First Will Bickford-Smith who has been promoted to advise Zahawi on schools policy in a non-political role.

Meanwhile, former free school founder Mark Lehain is Zahawi’s policy special adviser, as revealed by Schools Week.

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  1. Sue Whitehead

    What a shame – not real, not relevant and so out of touch. Typical. Why can’t advisory positions be filled with real people who understand? Is it because we are so busy dealing with the reality of the day job……..not the ivory tower?

  2. Mark Dixon

    The problem yet again is the belief that Teach First people have some monopoly on the top jobs in education. The real teachers spend years in the classroom working hard on their professional practice. It’s common knowledge in the teaching profession that Teach First students don’t spend long in the classroom and seek promotion as as possible.