The Importance of Sir David Hancock

Sir David Hancock

I have a filter in my RSS reader that picks up obituaries with the word ‘education’ in them. Sounds morbid, I know, but few things are more inspirational than reading about people whose lives were used to improve schools.

Last week Sir David Hancock appeared in the feed. Working as senior civil servant for the DfE during the tenure of Keith Joseph and Kenneth Baker, he is credited with getting the Education Reform Act 1988 onto the statute books (arguably the most important reform since the 1944 Act).

What surprised me as I read the obituary is how influential Hancock clearly was, and yet how few of the Edu Secs biographies so far have really discussed the role of civil servants, at least not in complimentary ways. I’ve started reading Maurice Kogan’s “The Politics of Education” in which he interviews Edward Boyle and Anthony Crosland, and dissects the way education policies are implemented. While short shrift is often shown to civil servants, he quotes a senior official saying:

“I can honestly say that there is not one new policy in my sector of responsibility that I have not either started or substantially contributed to over the last twenty years”

If this is true, does treatment of one’s civil servants matter? Do the Secs who eschew thanking others end up being considered more “great” simply because they have stolen the limelight from others more deserving? Or can their civil service relationships affect whether or not policies are successfully implemented?

It’s another thing to watch for as I continue reading….

1 comment
  1. I think senior civil servants (not just Perm Secs) is an interesting thread as I sort of knew a few in my previous life at the Royal Society and was always intrigued to know how much influence they really had. I also had a lot of admiration for Charles Clarke as Ed Sec, whose father, Sir Richard Clarke, was part of the ‘White Heat’ drive of the 1960s as Perm Sec in the Ministry of Technology and before that Aviation. His son seemed more of a civil servant than a politician to me, perhaps unsurprisingly. But you’ll get to him eventually …

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