On Wednesday this week I was a speaker on the course Parliament, Government and the Civil Service (PGCS) run by my former employers National School of Government. The course chair this week – Paul Grant – is the same person who ran my PGCS when I was a wide-eyed Fast Stream civil servant in 2004, the start of a road that took me from DTI to working for National School of Government, and to my current work as a freelance trainer (although I do other things too).

Yet significantly this week’s PGCS is the last that will be run, for National School of Government is closing its doors for good at the end of this month, victim of the government’s budget cuts.

Let’s be clear – National School (and its predecessor incarnations, the Civil Service College and CMPS) has its downsides. Most importantly its role has never been altogether clear. The UK government could never let it have the grandeur of ÉNA in France, while the efforts to make National School a cost-returning training organisation in the market for government training against companies like Westminster Explained were never a complete success. Civil servants don’t like income targets it seems.

Yet despite all that I mourn the National School’s passing.

In the modern civil service with human resources functions largely decentralised to individual departments, National School courses were a little bit of glue holding the whole thing together. Long term friendships were forged from courses at Sunningdale or Belgrave Road (I’m still in touch with many people with whom I attended courses).

The knowledge and skills in the heads of the trainers at National School, something that has already been dissipating for a few years, is surely going to be able to be less comprehensively and methodologically expressed on courses run by private training providers in the future.

As I walked along Larch Avenue for the final time, heading down to the railway station to take the train home, I started to list in my head the very many excellent colleagues and associates I’ve worked with over the years at National School, and people who have imparted knowledge to hundreds, even thousands of civil servants. In no particular order – Jo Keech-Jowers, Adam Steinhouse, Kate Thomson, Adrian Rossiter, Sue Calthorpe, Tony Shaw, Quentin Oliver, Graham Davey, Jonathan Marshall, Graham Davies, Graham O’Connell, and many more I’ve worked with briefly.

Some small but vital part of UK government dies next week. That disturbs me.

7 Comments

  1. Sean O'Broin

    I have fond memories of attending an Exam Revision Session at the National School of Government on Risk Assurance & Audit Management (M3) in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MIIA awarded by the Institute of Internal Auditors.

    I was a civil servant in the Department of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources in Dublin and attended the National School of Government r this course and it was a great joy to meet fellow students from the UK public sector.

    I wonder whether the decision of the Government to close the School as an economy measure is shortsighted. I’m not suggesting that the methodology in the tender competition challenged by Virgin Train would not have been open to challenge if the civil servants had greater knowledge of public procurement methodiology and risk assessment, but I have no doubt that the School would act as an antidote in reducing the likelihood of the outcomes nd methodology being used in such tender competitions being challenged legally.

    The quality of support from John Chesshire and Nigel Freeman was excellent and they even gave me some additional handouts, which were invaluable in helping to pass the examination.
    I therefore owe a debt of gratitude to the NSI and there is an old Gaelic proverb which is particularly appropriate in encapsulating the role of the organisation. Ní bhfeicimíd a leithéied arís, which translated means ‘We won’t see the likes of it again.

    The NSI also played a significant role in the beginning of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The Sunningdale Agreement signed between the Governments of the UK, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland in the 1970’s took place at the NSI.

    My thoughts are with the staff of the NSI and hopefully they will all be satisfactorily fixed up in employment.

    Bye Bye NSI, you will be sorely missed not only in the UK but also in the Republic of Ireland.

    Sean O’Broin, CMIIA
    Maynooth,
    Co. Kildare

  2. Matt Gosden

    I’m interviewing for a number of roles (the regulator I worked for was also closed as part of the “bonfire of the quangos”.I didn’t know until a few seconds ago that the National school was also closing. Your online course on Information Security (yes, I work in IM & T) was the best I’ve seen yet. Light touch enough to get the non-Im or T members of the organisation (i.e the uninterested), interested. And yet informative enough to be of real value. I don’t suppose the course material for said course is available from elsewhere is it?
    If the rest of your course material was of a similar quality, we have indeed lost an asset. Not just in the Civil Service, but in the potential opportunities in all other sectors as much of it can be transferred with barely a blink.

  3. The swimming pool was great.

  4. Stella Hockey

    Great article Jon. Many people like me will remember the National School of Government, not only with affection, but as a place where its training made a real difference. One thing it did get right was course quality. There are lots of training organisations but it was this and the public sector focus that all the courses were designed around that kept people coming back for more.

    Good luck to the former National School tutors that believe there still is a place for this type of training and have revived the Civil Service College. For anyone that might be interested it launched shortly after the National School closed, see civilservicecollege.org.uk

  5. Katy Deacon

    The National School was a real resource for training and I found it so useful. Do you know of any ways that local authorities can access some of those resources and use them in the future as they were really excellent quality. Any contacts or tips/ways to access these packages of work would be really appreciated.

  6. Thanks Jon, a fitting obituary for the School.
    It was never perfect, being neither the unique go-to place for the whole civil service, nor independent enough to run itself without tied-in overheads imposed on it as part of government.
    But it was a fantastic place to work, with staff knowledgeable in the full picture of what the civil service is and does, and the trainers empowered to do what needed to be done to address the whole, not just the specific skill. I await more information on how the cross-service nature of the SCS and Fast Stream are to be preserved in the new approach, but then I’m out of the training loop these days.
    National School days were some of the happiest of my working life. And very glad to have met you there 🙂

  7. Martin Keegan

    Gerry Adams has Sunningdale for slow learners. I guess this was Sunningdale for fast stream learners.

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