Teach First graduate and Conservative Teachers founder to be new schools policy adviser


A Teach First graduate who founded the Conservative Teachers group is set to become Nick Gibb’s new schools adviser.

Schools Week understands that Will Bickford Smith will take up the role of schools policy adviser with Rory Gribbell leaving to become head of education at the No 10 policy unit.

Like Gribbell, Bickford Smith is a Teach First graduate, completing his two years with the programme at Hatch End High School, in Harrow. Bickford Smith then taught government and politics for two years up to August 2016 at Wellington College, before leaving the profession for a short stint as a management consultant.

He joined the Department for Education as a policy adviser on T levels in 2017, and most recently led on overseeing the well-received teacher recruitment and retention strategy.

Bickford Smith was also vice-chairman of the Conservative Education Society up until 2017 and had previously set up the Conservative Teachers group in 2015, saying it was a “call to arms for all those who have felt voiceless for too long”.

He wrote in a 2015 blog post: “For decades, those on the Left have acted like they have had a monopoly on the teaching profession with uncompromising individuals berating those who might even dare to suggest that supporters of the Conservative Party might in fact care about the plight of our school children.”

In the same piece, for the Conservatives for Liberty website, he said the profession needed to “acknowledge two truths, which may be uncomfortable for some to swallow”.

They were that difficulties in schools often stem from the actions of “misguided school leaders with good intentions, not the Government or Ofsted”.

“Despite these truths, the teaching unions and teaching establishment, who ought to be our constant support crutch, drip-feed a plethora of negativity so incessant that it is virtually impossible for even the most optimistic of teachers not to be worn down and demoralised by it,” he wrote.

Bickford Smith added the “one-sided moaning and groaning regarding Conservative policy” was “wrong and must be challenged”, claiming “hypocrisy” that heads criticising the expansion of the academies programme were doing so whilst “lining their own newly converted academy’s coffers with generous grants from local businesses”.

Writing more recently for Conservative Home in 2017, Bickford Smith called for plans to “get fresh leadership into schools to tackle educational underperformance, build a world-leading vocational and technical education pathway, and improve careers advice in schools and colleges”.

The Department for Education would not say whether the schools policy adviser role was advertised.

They instead provided a statement saying that any suggestion that recruits have not been appointed “fully in line with civil service recruitment guidelines is misleading”.

They added there are a “range of routes” available to government when recruiting people, with civil servants bound by the civil service code meaning they “carry out their duties in a way that is politically impartial”.

Gribbell has held the role for the past few years after joining the department in 2016 as a Teacher in Residence – where serving teachers are employed as civil servants for up to 12 months. The role consists of writing ministerial speeches for Gibb and advising him on policy.

At the time, then shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called for an investigation into the appointment, saying it was an “absolute abuse of public money”.

Rayner pointed out that Gribbell and his predecessor Robert Peal had both trained with Teach First, had relatively little teaching experience and had links to the Conservative party.

Gribbell is expected to replace Elena Nazoranksi, a former adviser for Michael Gove, at no 10.

The Downing Street policy unit is headed by Munira Mirza, former deputy mayor for education and culture while Boris Johnson was Mayor of London, and an ex-trustee at the New Schools Network.

She is also a member of the advisory council of lobbying group Parents and Teachers for Excellence.

Clarification: We have amended how we described Bickford Smith’s time at Hatch End school. Rather than saying he was ‘placed’ there by Teach First, we said he completed his two years with the programme at the school.


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  1. Terry McGovern

    “….taught government and politics for two years“

    So after teaching for a whole of two years he is now an advisor not to an individual school, not to a multi academy trust, not to a LA but to the government!

    Dom will be impressed!


  2. 2 years at Wellington College an independent school. Wow he really has suffered. He has not cut his teeth working in deprived catchment area, who have many barriers to education such as lack of support of home, having enough food in the table, suitable ICT access I could go on. Yet is instrumental in driving the education debate. There a thousands of more qualified people than this person. Jobs for the boys . What is his pay ? A joke

    • Janet Downs

      Nick – Hatch End school is in the Harrow ward of Hatch End which is the second most-deprived in Harrow. It’s wrong, therefore, to say Bickford Smith hasn’t worked in a deprived area. That said, four years’ teaching experience, two of which were in a public school, hardly qualifies anyone to advise on schools policy.

  3. “For decades, those on the Left have acted like they have had a monopoly on the teaching profession with uncompromising individuals berating those who might even dare to suggest that supporters of the Conservative Party might in fact care about the plight of our school children.”

    Evil Education Left? Check. Tory victimisation? Check. All about the children? Check. This boy will go far!

    PS. Is he a good letter writer?

  4. Felicity Leslie

    I am amazed at the number of ‘ names / people’ / orgsnisations etc who suddenly are mentioned & arise who are commenting on & advising government ministers & others about education who have very limited experience, if they have actually taught at all and certainly have little if no idea on how to teach children from Year R through to Year 2 and to Year 6 and beyond plus children with Special Needs.
    I taught for over 23 years & still knew little about Secondary School aged children or all of the Special Needs that many children had. I would not have advised others in certain age groups or certain schools on most issues.
    Experienced teachers are often the most able to understand their children & appreciate help, support & advice that is appropriate & relevant and not damming & critical, especially with some children with special needs that can be challenging & when there may be little classroom support. Not those who have only taught for a year or two or so & still are needing some support & still on a steeper learning curve.
    The amount of ‘people’ & organisations who are being mentioned who are advising etc on education in the UK, particuarly noticeable since many children have not been in school ( March 23rd) seems to be endless & I suspect some of their salaries are too.
    However no matter how many ‘ people’ / organisations there are it seems to have had little benefit on the children or a given them a good education & done little to give them what is best for them but only what has been imposed on teachers & then on them …..not just academically and for their enjoyment of school & life but for their futures, their health & well being & most importantly their mental health.
    After the comments & criticisms made after the PISA tests and definitely after the publicised PISA tests in December 2019 and what Andreas Schneider stated particularly regarding the worryingly high percentage of children in the UK with such a poor attitude to education & not ‘seeing a future’. etc. Attention should have been made to this & other criticisms as well as actually listening to the many children’s ‘ voices’ & teachers, who have taught various year groups & various children etc and spending money on the children & not wasting money on theorising etc. Actions that would be of much more benefit to the children & their education & their well being, in all ways plus to their futures.

  5. Rebecca

    He left teacher after completing only his first two training years and did not teach as a qualified teacher. Yet is here to lead education, that is not the message which should be given – if you cannot and do not want to teach and do not like the current teaching profession, go into management consultancy, the. Become the governments education and teaching advisor. On completing your training you still do not have an understanding of the full picture of teaching and the full range of tasks, policy, roles as you are still under mentoring and training on a reduced timetable, having never fully gone it alone. Therefore, he cannot possibly advise others, he legt teaching before his first year of going solo. What can her possibly be an expert in, except what it is like to complete the teach first training programme, then decide he died t want to go into teaching. Not a role model for teachers or the teaching profession.