End ‘snobbery’ over degrees in civil service recruitment, says Labour

Labour has said the government should end the consideration of academic qualifications for civil service jobs apart from where directly related to the post, to end the “snobbery” over degrees.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said degrees and A-levels should only be taken into account where they are a genuine occupational requirement, such as science qualifications.

The call follows a speech by Michael Gove in which he promised to open up the civil service to more external talent, alongside the publication of a “declaration on government reform”. All senior civil service roles will be advertised externally and there will be new flexible entry routes into Whitehall. The civil service fast-track graduate scheme will be updated, with apprenticeships introduced.

Rayner, who went to a further education college, said the government should go further and make it recruitment policy that public job adverts, shortlisting requirements and interview processes will only consider academic qualifications where they are strictly role-related.

She said it would allow the civil service to choose from a wider pool of candidates and those with a broader life experience. She said it would show that it was “skills, experience and hard work that matter, not a particular type of education or where somebody went to school or university.”

Rayner said: “If Michael Gove really wants to attract the most talented people to work in our civil service then he should end the ingrained snobbery that underpins attitudes towards different types of qualifications and the outdated assumption that academic qualifications should be a basic entry requirement for government jobs.”

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Gove has suggested that secretaries of state will have “greater involvement” in the recruitment of senior civil servants working in their department, prompting concern from one public sector union that the government is threatening to undermine the impartiality of the civil service.

At present, permanent secretaries are appointed under a scheme in which the prime minister has the final say in the recruitment process. A shortlist of candidates is drawn up by the civil service commissioners.

Earlier this year the Sunday Times reported that privately educated applicants to the civil service fast stream were twice as likely to receive an offer of a place than those who attended a comprehensive school.

Though around 70% of the successful applicants in January 2019 were state-educated, the transparency data suggested that more than three times as many former comprehensive pupils applied versus those who were privately educated – meaning their success rate was 3% compared with 7% for ex-private school pupils.

In May a report by the Social Mobility Commission said the class composition of the senior ranks of the civil service has barely changed since 1967. Only 18% of the 6,000-strong cohort of senior civil servants came from disadvantaged backgrounds, and one in four of this group were independently educated, research revealed.

The Cabinet Office has been approached for comment.


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