DfE’s top skills civil servant leaving post in December

Paul Kett has served in several roles at the department over six years, rising to the senior rank of director general in 2017

Paul Kett has served in several roles at the department over six years, rising to the senior rank of director general in 2017

21 Oct 2022, 12:00

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The Department for Education’s top skills civil servant is stepping down, FE Week can reveal.

Director general for skills Paul Kett will leave the role later this year. He will be replaced by Julia Kinniburgh, the current director general for strategy.

Kett has served in several roles at the department over the last six years, rising to the senior rank of director general in 2017. He was initially responsible for education standards policy, but in January 2019 took over the higher and further education group.

Director generals report directly to the most senior civil servant in the department, the permanent secretary, and have close relationships with secretaries of state and ministers. Kett is one of five director generals at the DfE.

Kett’s role changed earlier this year because of the DfE’s ‘arm’s length body review’ of the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The review concluded that the agency’s policy and delivery functions should be “consolidated” within the DfE so the agency can focus on its funding role.

This led to the creation of the ‘skills group’ within the department, headed up by Kett, which sits alongside the ‘families’ group and the ‘schools’ group. All DfE policy areas are organised under one of these groups.

A precise date for Kett’s departure has not been confirmed. However, FE Week understands that he will go by the end of December. His next role has not been revealed, but the DfE did confirmed he is leaving the civil service.

The director general for skills is responsible for higher and further education policy, apprenticeships, T levels, the lifelong loan entitlement, careers policy, student finance and is the lead sponsor for the Office for Students and Student Loans Company.

Kinniburgh will replace Kett at the end of the year. The department have begun the search for a new £130,000 per annum director general for strategy to succeed her in that role.

DfE data on senior staff salaries shows that Kett earns between £120,000-£124,999 a year and Kinniburgh £135,000-£139,999 a year.

Like Kett, Kinniburgh has experience in several senior roles across the civil service.

She first joined the DfE in 2014 and worked for four years as director of school accountability and curriculum before a two-year spell at the Home Office leading on serious and organised crime.

Kinniburgh rejoined the department in December 2020 to head up pandemic response and schools recovery and was appointed director general for strategy in April 2022.

When Roger Taylor resigned as chair of Ofqual following the 2020 grades fiasco, Kinniburgh led the appointments panel to replace him.

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2 Comments

  1. Dan Jones

    So, let’s tick off how the director general for skills responsibilities have done in his time: higher and further education policy (let’s not listen to the sector), apprenticeships (lets not listen to employers or the sector), T levels (let’s not listen to common sense from the sector or employers, pull the wool of countless ministers and secretary of states eyes and hark back to a report written by an economist, Alison wolf, well over a decade ago to justify our actions/jobs), the lifelong loan entitlement (let’s change the name because it puts people off or create a list of entitlement qualifications that has no relation to anything (put together by the same people that want to defund applied generals but because this is about adults the contradictions can be ignored)), careers policy (there isn’t one, other than do a T level because we’ve spent a billion pounds on a flawed policy and we really need to make this work), student finance (lets make it too expensive so we have fewer students so they can replace the lower paid workforce that’s no longer available post Brexit or screw around with bursaries for nurses and other skills shortage areas) and is the lead sponsor for the Office for Students (lets create yet another body which is overbearing and drunk on it’s own box ticking self importance, oh and again not listen to sector feedback on how that body is viewed).

    • Rob Green

      Well said!
      No doubt he’s destined for lucrative consultancy work.
      Pity the shower in charge of t levels don’t follow suit and leave.
      To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill
      Never have so many owed so little to so few!