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Civil Service

Schools outreach and the Civil Service: engaging to inspire

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A Brilliant Civil Service, A great place to work
Head shot of woman with long dark hair.
Rosehanna Chowdhury, Civil Service Champion for Schools Engagement

The Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy sets out the Civil Service’s ambition to become the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020. We need to attract talent from a wide range of backgrounds if we are to meet the needs of a modern and diverse Britain. Respecting and valuing difference will help to ensure that government policies and public services reflect the needs and experiences of the people we serve. To do this effectively, we need a workforce with the very best possible mix of existing and future talent.

What are we trying to achieve?

Early engagement with young people in schools has a big part to play in achieving our diversity and inclusion and social mobility goals, and I am pleased to be supporting Sir Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service, in championing this engagement. As part of this, I am looking at innovative ways in which we can promote Civil Service careers to school students across the country from all backgrounds. Investing in young people in this way will help to improve the talent pipeline into the Civil Service, while ensuring a more diverse workforce and improving social mobility for young people people in areas of social and economic disadvantage.

Group shot of man seated, centre, with school students behind and alongside
Pupils from Jo Richardson Community School with Jeremy Heywood during their Cabinet Office visit in 2017

Social mobility is tremendously important. It is about equality of aspiration and opportunity, about background not determining future prospects. However, research suggests that young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds face significant barriers in achieving the best educational and employment outcomes. The result is that they are significantly under-represented at the top levels of industry, government, politics and sport.

Why it matters to me

Schools engagement is an issue close to my heart. I know at first hand the positive impact it can have on young people’s career aspirations. My own pathway into the Civil Service began in Tower Hamlets when the then Cabinet Secretary Sir Richard Wilson, the late Mo Mowlam MP, and former senior civil servants such as Suma Chakrabarti visited my school to talk about careers in the Civil Service.

I hadn’t previously heard of - let alone considered - a career in the Civil Service. And while the visit prompted interest, it left a lot of unanswered questions. What do you mean by a career in public policy? What will I actually do? What should I study to do it? What is the job title? So I wrote to Suma Chakrabarti asking for work experience so I could answer these questions.

In the following summer holidays I did a two-week work experience placement at the Cabinet Office. At 16 years old this was a fascinating and insightful introduction to the world of the Civil Service. I learnt that the answers to my questions weren’t straightforward! There isn’t one particular subject to study or route to take to join the Civil Service - there are a number of options and entry points. At the Cabinet Office, I went from meetings on Sure Start policy and implementation, to education and health policy reform. I even got a tour of No.10! But what left a lasting impression on me was that that the people I shadowed, the meetings I attended, were all about creating, designing and implementing policies and programmes that would have a real impact on people’s lives, through public services like schools and hospitals.

The experience stayed with me through my time at university and my early days in the private sector. And so I joined the Civil Service to work on public policy and have real world impact.

What we are doing already

The Civil Service is already doing some excellent work on diversity, inclusion and social mobility. It began with groundbreaking independent research to better understand the factors that may influence the progression of young people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of the recommendations in  the Bridge Group report on how to increase social mobility in the Fast Stream, the Civil Service’s flagship graduate employment scheme, have been implemented, but there is still more to do.

There are many different routes into the Civil Service - from the Fast Stream, to Fast Track Apprenticeships and the Summer Diversity Internship Programme – helping to make a career in the Civil Service an achievable goal for young people from a wider variety of backgrounds. We have increased our regional engagement, targeting it more effectively,  and we have established our first regional Fast Stream Assessment Centre in Newcastle, so that we can make the scheme accessible to a more diverse range of  talented young people in different parts of the country. Meanwhile, a new internal social mobility network is making Civil Service role models accessible to young recruits and new entrants.

The recently established Civil Service Schools Outreach Network will ensure a cross-government approach to this important work and will support departments to develop their own programmes - as well as encouraging Senior Civil Servants like me to visit schools themselves.  And, of course, our new permanent secretary champion for social mobility, Bernadette Kelly, building on the excellent work of previous champion Jon Thompson, will continue to ensure social mobility remains a priority at the highest levels of our organisation.

So, what next?

I will be building on this and leading a series of events this year to engage with schools and promote careers in the Civil Service. I hope this will help to demystify what we mean by careers in public policy. But I still believe we can and must be bolder in our engagement with students to make our offer clearer and more accessible.

A Civil Service career has so much to offer in terms of working on the biggest questions facing the country and making a real difference to people’s lives. Through interactive workshops we can showcase the wide range of challenges that civil servants work on, from artificial intelligence, to housing for the next generation, and supporting an ageing population - to broaden understanding of the Civil Service as a compelling career choice for people with a diverse range of interests and skill sets.

So I’m joining forces with the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) to lead policy insight days, including interactive workshops with government departments to give students an experience of the issues they face. SMF provides 16- to 17-year-olds from diverse backgrounds with opportunities and networks of support that often aren’t available to them through their schools or families. They aim to give students a real insight into top professions and to provide them with an understanding of the skills needed to achieve their aspirations.

How can you get involved?

There is so much we can do. And I am eager to hear from you about your experiences, insights and ideas for schools engagement. You can email me at:

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  1. Comment by David Hopkins posted on

    Hi - we'd really like to connect what we're doing in the Government Communication Service - we've successfully piloted an interactive crisis comms simulation, which we're looking to roll out nationally:

    We're speaking with Lara Hayes soon about this, who's involved in Cabinet Office work - hopefully you already know about that already. And I've heard from DWP colleagues who regularly visit schools that are also very interested in working with us. There are pockets of activity all over government and the public and charity sectors - be great to pool our efforts! 😀

  2. Comment by ST posted on

    It's all very well encouraging school kids to join the civil service, but by stripping away offices into remote "central hubs" and by requiring a lot of travel to London etc. in higher grade jobs, we are stifling social mobility. We need to invest in the regions and ensure social mobility continues whatever your age and career stage. The link to this article was entitled "Where you start out in life shouldn't determine where you end up" and I know that referred to social economic background, but geographically speaking people should be able to remain "where they start out in life" i.e. with their own families and communities, and still have a reasonable expectation of development and affluence.

  3. Comment by Carol Wilson posted on

    I joined DWP from a difficult family background after attending what I now realise were poor schools with low pupil aspirations in East London. I was able to get in to the Civil service but progression has been the issue, I now realise that I was saddled with the attitude of embittered Teachers, one of which said to the whole classroom oh I don't know why I bother you are all factory fodder anyway! Children need to have the self belief that they are capable and valued, Give a Young Person a label and they will inevitably live up or down to it. initiatives in schools will only help individuals to achieve if we can inspire them and their families to support their ambitions.

  4. Comment by Barry McAuley posted on

    Where you are born and where you grew up should not count against you. Whether you went to a grammar school or a comprehensive, if you are willing to work hard and study, there should be no limits on what you can achieve. Equality of opportunity simply means that a young person from Merseyside gets the same chance to succeed in life as a young person from Kensington and Chelsea.