Head of Education Department quits

The departure of one of Wales’s leading civil servants reveals a personality clash at the heart of government policy

Those looking for signs that Education Minister Leighton Andrews is in a hurry to achieve results  need look no further than the departure of his chief civil servant, David Hawker, with whom it is said he has never seen eye to eye.

Last week Hawker, Director General at the Department of Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, told colleagues that from September he will take up a secondment with the Department of Education in London. His new role will be to review English education Quangos, to see how they can be cut to meet the Government’s budget reduction targets.

He is likely to be replaced, at least temporarily, by one of his deputies, Dennis Gunning, Director of Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning. Gunning is going to have to pick up a bucket of hot potatoes. However, he leaves the department in some disarray. Budget cuts are creating difficulties in getting its learning through play initiative for three to seven-year-olds off the ground, local education authorities across Wales are up in arms over the decision to prevent Cardiff Council pressing ahead with its schools reorganisation plans, and the university sector is resisting Andrews’s wishes to press ahead with mergers and rationalisation.

The latest twist in this last endeavour, Andrews’ flagship policy, has come from the University of Wales Institute Cardiff which has rebuffed a merger with the University of Glamorgan. The latter told Leighton Andrews that they favoured combination because they wanted to create an academic institution “of a size and scale to compete with its cross-border neighbours”. However, UWIC says it intends to remain as “an autonomous institution, working interdependently with others where there is mutual benefit in so doing”.

Leighton Andrews declared in a remarkable speech earlier this year that if universities remained resistant in this way he would seek other means to force them to comply with his policy for rationalising the Welsh higher and further education sector. If that meant bringing the Welsh Higher Education Funding Council in-house with the Welsh Government funding universities directly, then so be it. However, some insiders believe that he regarded David Hawker’s “slightly other worldly and philosophical approach” to the task as unlikely to produce the dividends he wants in the time available – this side of next year’s Assembly election

For Andrews’s taste, Hawker has apparently been rather more interested in the academic side of policy development than the cut and thrust of implementation. For instance, last year he was elected a Professor of the College of Teachers, primarily due to his work in educational quality development and evaluation. Internationally he has represented Wales and England on an EU committee of policy makers on educational evaluation, acted as a consultant to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Programme for International Student Assessment project, worked with the British Council and the World Bank in Russia, and now sits on the General Education Sub-Board of the Soros Foundation which sponsors open society projects around the world. He has also served on a number of government advisory committees ranging from the regulation of early years childcare, foreign languages and the impact of socio-economic differences on educational outcomes.

All these interests have meant less time for pushing through Leighton Andrews’ change agenda. On the other hand, although in his two years as Director General at DCELLs he has continued to commute from his home in Sussex, he has managed to learn Welsh to an adult learning standard equivalent to a GCSE pass.

He told colleagues last week that his “rather sudden and unexpected decision” had been prompted by his wife’s illness and that he needed to be closer to home on a full time basis. However, the replacement last December of the more emollient Jane Hutt with Andrews’s more abrasive qualities undoubtedly changed the atmosphere within the department.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

Also within Politics and Policy