Like many government departments, the Department for Education is an anaemic institution; less powerful than its opponents believe, yet more unsure of itself than the civil service care to admit. It has had several identities over the last few years, none of which have stuck, but between 2010–2015 it was irreversibly changed by a small group of ideologues.
Those figures — Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings — are now key players in a government with a large majority. Understanding what happened in the Department for Education is to understand what is about to happen across this government, where a combination of dogmatic advisors, scheming consultants, and contempt for civil servants will dramatically reshape our public institutions.
When you speak to senior officials at the Department for Education there is often mention of a ‘hinge point.’ For them, the department ticked along nicely between 1997 and 2010 until Michael Gove became minister for education. Then it all changed.