Michael Gove’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ department: ex-minister speaks out

Reshuffled Tim Loughton warns of undue emphasis on school reform at expense of child protection in ‘anachronistic’ office

The education secretary, Michael Gove, is accused of running his department in an “anachronistic, terribly bureaucratic, terribly formal” way, in an extraordinary critique from one of his own former fellow education ministers.

Tim Loughton, children’s and families’ minister in the Department for Education until the reshuffle last year, said the department was run with an “Upstairs, Downstairs mentality”, in a reference to the TV series about the servants and masters in an Edwardian household.

In another popular TV reference (to Are You Being Served), Lougton told the education select committee: “Most officials have never met the secretary of state other than when he will troop out a few chosen people for the new year party, Mr Grace-like, from Grace Brothers [the department store in the show], and tell us we’ve all done terribly well, and then disappear. That is no way to run an important department. It is terribly anachronistic, terribly bureaucratic, terribly formal.”

Loughton, who had the children’s brief for many years in opposition, too, claimed children’s issues were a “declining priority”, and that their interests appeared to have been further “downgraded” since the reshuffle last September, often suffering because of Gove’s focus on “radical” changes to the running of schools.

“There is a particular area around child exploitation where the department seems to have gone on complete radio silence at a time when sexual abuse of children has never had a higher profile in public consciousness and the media, post-Savile,” said the MP, referring to the former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile. “That is deeply, deeply worrying, and I hope that doesn’t signify any downgrading of the priority that it absolutely is.”

Sir Martin Narey, former chief executive of the children’s charity Barnado’s, who now advises the government on adoption reform, took to Twitter to defend Gove, tweeting: “@timloughton Good Min as he was, I don’t share view. Gove committed to adoption and care reforms He’s given me lots of time”; and “Tim L was a great Minister and he’s a friend But this doesn’t square with adoption being a DfE and No 10 top priority.”

But Lisa Nandy, the shadow children’s minister, said Loughton’s insider allegations were “incredibly serious”. In a statement, Nandy said: “Just a few days after the police and NSPCC report into Jimmy Savile, a former minister has lifted the lid on David Cameron and Michael Gove’s education department, warning that they are failing to make child protection a high enough priority.

“Experts are warning that the government is in danger of undermining the guidance on child protection. After their failure to hold a single, overarching inquiry into abuse allegations, ministers must get a grip and focus on this issue. These warnings must not go unheeded.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The accusation that we are sidelining the children’s agenda is completely unfounded. The welfare of children is at the heart of this government’s wide-ranging reforms.

“We are making radical changes, which include taking action to better protect children in care, speeding up the adoption process, focusing child protection on the child rather than the process and … [making] childcare more affordable.

“Children’s Minister Edward Timpson is regularly meeting with child protection leaders to ensure momentum is being maintained on the government’s child sexual exploitation action plan so we are better able to raise awareness, support victims and put more abusers behind bars.”

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