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Wombling around Whitehall

Read Allen’s first blog here

The story continues…

Thank you for clicking into my biographic account of how I became the subject lead of Computing at the school I work for. It was taking on this role which saw the opportunity in 2020-21 of teaching Computer Science at A-Level.

The power of the professional network

By the 1990s, I began metaphorically rubbing the shoulder pads of my suits with others around Whitehall. I moved from performing centralised administrative duties at a local level to the Crown Prosecution Service organisation’s Headquarters in central London.  In 1992 I was part of the team which relocated from its Georgian splendour in Queen Anne’s Gate to these offices on Ludgate Hill. 

Things can only get better

It was in 1996, central Government continued on its overarching policy to “roll back the state”. The strategy at the time was to break up the centrally administered Government Estate. The intention was to allow individual Government Departments to self-manage the office premises they occupied.  This will sound and read like a lot of Whitehall-speak. The upshot of it was that by the turn of the century, I had secured two successive promotions into a quasi-senior position for the Department.  A sequence of events which started in 1997 partly caused this.  In the final days of the Conservative Government led by John Major, I saw and began to formulate an exit strategy.  The organisation was offering significant payments to colleagues who were only slightly senior to me to leave the Department. The severance payments were equivalent to two years salary for some.  It was this point that made me decide I should receive such an offer, I would need to have a plan.

Birkbeck College

In 1997, I graduated from Birkbeck College in what has been and remains one of my proudest personal achievements.  The opportunity to study for a degree on a part-time evening class basis is the single key factor which enabled me to qualify as a teacher in 2012 and set me on the professional path I have been following ever since.

Reorganisation of the Government Estate

The reorganisation of the management of the Government Estate into individual Departments meant new professional opportunities for me.  I began working with other Government Departments on cross Whitehall working groups. My name would appear as a member of editorial committees of policy documents used across Whitehall like this:

I became involved in working on establishing a Professional Development Programme for senior Government officials. In my experience of managing Government property assets, I found myself invited by the Civil Service College as one of their speakers. The Civil Service College was the in-house Management training facility for its officials. I was training senior officials on how their departments were to manage multi-million-pound property portfolios. 

Digitising the workspace

In 2000, the Crown Prosecution Service began its technological transformation.  The plan was to provide computing technology to over 8,000 desktops in over a hundred locations with a secure Wide Area Network. I developed my technical knowledge of hardware and software working on the “private-public partnership”. My previous experience was confined to tinkering with spreadsheets, databases and content management systems.

Criminal Justice Reform   

The recommendations of the 1999 Macpherson Report also had an impact on working practices at the Crown Prosecution Service. Being one of the Departments central to the Criminal Justice System, I found myself propelled into regularly working with very senior ranking Civil Servants. I would frequently participate in meetings with the Department’s Management Board. I was regularly representing the Department at a senior level too.  The most memorable of those meetings was hosted at the Department of Transport’s Offices on Marsham Street. I found myself sitting opposite my former Head of Sixth Form who had made a career change from teaching to becoming a Civil Servant.  It was a very levelling experience as we spoke to each other as professional peers. It was during the meeting biscuit break I told him about how I had completed a degree in Economic and Social Policy from Birkbeck College. I had not forgotten fifteen years before, he had told me in his capacity as Head of Sixth Form, he thought it improbable that I would study at University.

Professional Development

Over consecutive years, my Line Managers and Counter-signatories in their annual assessments of my work would spotlight my people skills.  They complimented me on my ability to make technical knowledge understandable. They also complimented my ability to support and inspire colleagues.  Following the 2008 global financial crisis, in 2010, I was offered the equivalent of two years salary to leave the Civil Service. So, after almost 24 years, I declared I wanted to “open the box”.  My apologies for the use of the catchphrase from the British TV gameshow which ran at the time…

Get into Teaching

I thought I would quickly secure a place on a PGCE in Secondary Computing given the talk of teacher shortages in the subject.  As I did not have a conventional route to University, this made one PGCE provider very circumspect of my application.  I was offered an interview for a place on another PGCE Secondary Computing course. The feedback I got from the interview was that I would be completely unsuitable to be a Computing teacher.  Undeterred, I was fortunate enough to secure a volunteering opportunity at a wonderful Primary bordering Highgate Cemetery. I fell in love with the idea of working with primary-aged learners.  I was subsequently offered a paid part-time role as the school’s on-site technician. It was through this role that I first met the brilliant Gillian Ingram. It was also the first time I got to work alongside the team at London Grid for Learning.  Through these experiences, I managed to secure myself a place on the PGCE at Goldsmiths College. I completed my PGCE in the year that London became the focus of the Olympic world.  With my son born in June of that year too, it was a Summer I will never forget.

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The author

Allen Tsui is the subject lead for Computing at Willow Brook Primary School Academy in North East London where he has held the role since Summer 2020. Allen has also been a Digital Schoolhouse Leader since Summer 2023.

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