Nineteen politicians have held office at the Department for Education in just over a year – with those resigning or booted out in reshuffles entitled to more than £100,000 in severance pay.
Analysis by the Institute for Government shows education had more secretaries of state (four) this year than any other department. Five other departments had three.
FE Week analysis reveals 19 ministers have held one of what was six ministerial posts, reduced to five since September last year.
Ministers are entitled to severance pay no matter how long they serve – providing they don’t get another government position within three weeks.
Our study shows that 10 ministers who resigned or were sacked are due nearly £110,000 in pay-offs.
‘Schools and colleges would be admonished for this’
Ed Reza Schwitzer, associate director at Public First, said: “All the talk from politicians is about civil servants being more efficient and squeezing value out of every pound of taxpayers’ money.
“And yet the government is doing something they would admonish schools and colleges for. A school or college firing senior staff willy nilly, paying them severance, and then doing the same all over again – it would be slapped with a financial notice to improve.”
The pay-outs include £36,000 to four ministers who were axed last week, three of whom only served for 50 days.
It also includes skills minister Alex Burghart who resigned on July 6 over Boris Johnson’s handling of the Chris Pincher scandal, but was appointed minister for pensions and growth just 10 week later. He was due more than £5,500 severance.
At least three education advisers were also due pay-offs – estimated to be nearly £19,000 each – taking the overall amount potentially paid out to nearly £150,000.
Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said it was “galling that people who have done the job with no outcomes and little evidence of success are getting pay-outs”.
The three shortest serving education secretaries since 1941 are Michelle Donelan (1.5 days), Kit Malthouse (50 days) and James Cleverly (61 days), who all were in post this year.
Bousted said civil servants had been unable to get ministerial direction to guide policy-making.
“Meanwhile chronic problems are getting worse: recruitment and retention, funding, industrial action.”
Schwitzer said civil servants spending hours bringing new ministers up to speed every few weeks was also a “really poor use of time. And then the politician can’t get anything done before they are moved out.”
‘Payments are unjustifiable’
Analysis by Sky News shows that a total of 71 ministers and whips who were either sacked or who resigned this year were eligible to receive up to £709,000.
But ministers can reject pay-outs. Donelan said she turned down the nearly £17,000 severance she was entitled to, after saying earlier that she would have given it to charity if she couldn’t reject it.
Members of the Labour group for Stoke council are urging Jonathan Gullis, the former schools minister, to refuse the payment or at least donate to “local good causes”.
“At a time when residents in our city are hit by the cost-of-living crisis – the result of the catastrophic mini-budget introduced by your government in late September – we feel such payments are unjustifiable,” the group said in a letter.
FE Week contacted all 10 ministers due severance. Robin Walker, a former schools minister, confirmed he was entitled to £7,920, but did not say whether he was paid.
Gullis and Kelly Tolhurst, a former schools and children’s minister, said they had not been informed of any details relating to severance pay. The others did not respond.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he hoped short-serving ministers would turn-down pay-outs, which looked “pretty sordid at a time of a school and college funding crisis”.
But the return of experienced campaigners Nick Gibb, likely schools minister, Rob Halfon, likely skills minister, and education secretary Gillian Keegan – a former skills minister – brought hope.
“We now have in place an experienced team of ministers, who we hope will advocate strongly for the education sector … and provide some badly needed stability,” Barton added.
Claire Coutinho has joined as a junior minister.
19 MPs have held a DfE ministerial role since September last year
5 Education secretaries in under four months
840 days Average time in office of education secretaries appointed before September 2021
101 days Average time in office of education secretaries appointed after September 2021
1.5 days Michelle Donelan’s time as education secretary