UK senior civil servants to answer questions about their socio-economic background

By on 18/08/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service, being interviewed by Matt Ross

The UK’s 4,000 most senior civil servants will be asked to answer questions about their childhood education and their parents’ academic background in a drive to attract people from a poorer background to the civil service.

Officials, who volunteer for the exercise, will face 12 questions including whether the they spent time in care; what type of secondary school they attended; whether they were ever eligible for a free school mean; what their home postcode was at the age of 14; what their parents do for a living and whether they obtained a university degree.

The questions are part of a trial the government is conducting to assess the socio-economic background of the top echelons of its workforce, which is said to be predominantly white, male and privileged.

By the end of this year, they will be whittled down to five questions, which could be used to assess the background of job applicants to the wider civil service, which already uses name and school blind recruitment in 70% of posts.

The project was launched jointly by the Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service and Jon Thompson, permanent secretary at the UK tax authority and social mobility champion of the civil service.

The government hopes to encourage other employers to follow suit.

“Some of the questions may make those taking the survey slightly uncomfortable,”Heywood wrote in a blog post published today. “But I want to reassure everyone that data is being collected and used anonymously, in the same way as other diversity data.”

He added: “It’s our hope that, over time, as has happened with the collection of data on race, gender and disability, the concerns about answering questions of a personal nature will diminish and providing such information will be seen as the norm.

“This will only happen if we are clear about the purpose.

“We should value difference of all kinds, all backgrounds.

“I want us to understand our workforce so that we can be sure that there are no barriers in place to achieving this.

“This work is about increasing chances for all, based on the most meaningful evidence at our disposal. Appointment is and should always be on merit.

“I look forward eagerly to the results of the survey and to seeing how they inform the approach to improving social mobility.”

Ben Gummer, the minister responsible for the civil service, said: “I am committed to ensuring that anyone with the right talents and aptitude can serve in the civil service, no matter what their background.

“Understanding social background through a set of measures, commonly used by employers, will enable us to assess whether we are attracting the widest possible talent and to make decisions which are based on sound evidence.”



The 12 questions are:

1. Did you spend time in care?
2. Have you ever had refugee or asylum status?
3. Were you a carer as a child?
4. What type of secondary school did you attended?
5. What is the name of the school you attended?
6. Has your parent, guardian or carer completed a degree?
7. What is the highest qualification of your parent, guardian or carer?
8. What is the home postcode you had at age 14?
9. Were you eligible for free school meals?
10. What is the occupation of your parent, guardian or carer?
11. What is the tenure of the accommodation you lived in as a child?
12. Please give a self-assessment of your socio-economic background status.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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