Public Service Day: Celebrating two generations of extraordinary people

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Two people speaking public service day

In celebration of Public Service Day on 23 June, three pairs of former and present workers meet up to find out how their roles compare

We spoke with 6 individuals about their experiences working in the education sector, the Civil Service and the police and how these roles have changed. Read on to find out what they had to say…

You can watch the full video interview and find out more about how you can support, including by writing to your MP at


Marva and Adrian Rollins (mother and son)

Teachers marva and adrian rollins

The Rollins name is renowned in the education system. Marva received an OBE for her services to teaching and, after retiring in 2019, set up Rollins Education Consultancy to support schools in deprived areas. Her son, Adrian, has taught at the likes of Brampton Manor Secondary School, a London comprehensive whose grades outstrip many of the UK’s top private schools. Both of them volunteer, too, whether as charity trustees or mentors for minority groups. 

Adrian: Mum, you’ve worked in education for over 25 years – you didn’t think you’d ever be a teacher, did you? 

Marva: When I was growing up in Barbados, teaching was my dream. We didn’t have dolls, so I would make little figures from the clay soil and pretend to teach them. But when we came to England in the ’60s, that dream went out of the window: it simply wasn’t possible for working-class children at that time. I just had to forget it. However, at 31 I got a place on a teaching course, and a grant that enabled me to look after you three kids. I had to work hard but those four years were the best of my life. 

A: And how did it feel to see me follow in your footsteps? 

M: I was really pleased – not because I wanted you to follow me, but because you’re also showing young BAME people what they can achieve. And, of course, you went on to teach at Brampton Manor, just around the corner from where you grew up... 

A: It was a huge privilege. Not only being part of making that school what it is today, but giving back to that community, in one of London’s poorest boroughs. I’ve been teaching for 19 years, and I know how important it is to set an example, to show children that obstacles can be overcome. I can say to my pupils, ‘I was like you – so if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for you’. Was that a powerful message in your teaching career, too?

M: Yes, it certainly was. Very early on, I realised I wanted to lead schools in disadvantaged areas. I worked my way up and became the first black head teacher in Newham. During my career, I had the opportunity to turn around two schools in economically deprived parts of London – and that was probably my greatest achievement. Both schools had been severely underperforming, but my team and I completely changed that. It gave thousands of children a better start. 

A: And you’ve done so much charity work! 

M: I’m my mother’s daughter – even when she was almost 80, she was still cooking for the elderly! But yes, I’ve spent the last 40-odd years volunteering – whether as a founder member of the Sickle Cell Society, or as patron of the Reach Society, which helps young black people to fulfil their potential. As you know, there is still a huge lack of black leaders in education, so we both do what we can as mentors. I have a T-shirt that says ‘Kindness is free’– that’s what I believe. 


Civil Service

Rachael Tiffen and Pierpaolo Surleti

Civil Servants Rachael Tiffen and Pierpaolo Surleti

Rachael dedicated her 29-year civil service career to fighting fraud, theft, bribery and corruption, eventually joining the Ministry of Defence as Manager of the Fraud Defence Unit. She’s currently Director of Public Sector at Cifas, the UK’s non-profit fraud prevention service. Here, she meets Pierpaolo, who’s at the start of his public sector career, as a counter-fraud and investigations apprentice at the Education and Skills Funding Agency. 

Rachael: Public sector fraud prevention is rarely in the limelight, and yet we’ve both made careers from it. Why does it matter to you? 

Pierpaolo: I’m passionate about making sure that money goes to the right place so it can make a difference in people’s lives. As you know, counter fraud is about preventing funds being lost to fraud, and my team supports counter-fraud activity in the ESFA. We also conduct investigations that may ultimately lead to the recovery of funds. Anything recovered by the ESFA then goes back into the provision of education and training, so both aspects of our work benefit the education system.

R: Absolutely. And when you’re part of that process, it’s so rewarding isn’t it? 

P: Even as an apprentice, I feel like I’m doing something valuable. I’m incredibly proud when I see the impact that our work has. You realise how many children and young people will benefit – how it will help their families and their futures. 

R: You joined the sector three years ago, after a career change. Why did it appeal to you? 

P: I’ve always wanted to do something that would have a positive impact, and also because I wanted to give something back to this country for welcoming me. I moved to Manchester from Italy in 2018, and public service had always appealed to me. Maybe it’s because my dad was in the Italian police force – the Carabinieri – so I have this type of mindset. Was it the same for you? 

R: Not initially – I only planned to work in the public sector for a couple of weeks. My first job was a temporary role at Haringey Council, after university, but I never left. I found I really enjoyed helping people. Soon after, I worked in a homeless persons’ unit and really focused on being a public servant. I worked my way up to Head of Audit and Counter Fraud in three London Boroughs, but I wanted to do something that would make a difference nationally, so I moved to the National Fraud Authority. 

P: And did you make the difference you wanted to? 

R: Yes. When I joined, I raised an issue about there not being a counter-fraud strategy for local government. And someone said, do you want to write it? So I went off and did the research, travelling up and down the country to meet lots of councils. I drafted the strategy, and the Government agreed to it. Many councils told me it helped them immeasurably, and it’s probably the thing I’m best known for. 

P: So you’ve seen first-hand how much fraud has evolved over the years... 

R: It certainly has. Now, I work at Cifas, the UK’s non-profit fraud-prevention service. A fraud risk case is reported every 90 seconds, and we record all of them. A lot of banks and private companies use the database, but it’s my job to open it up to the public sector so that it benefits everyone. Like you, I’m proud to be making a positive impact.


Vicky Lees and Wyn Humphrey

Police officers vicky lees and wyn humphrey

This spring, just as Vicky was retiring from Thames Valley Police (TVP) after 30 years of service, Wyn was marking his first anniversary as a TVP Student Police Constable. Based in Banbury, Wyn is on the Incident Crime Response (ICR) team, attending 999 calls and emergency call-outs – a role that Vicky held too, while she was stationed at High Wycombe and Bicester. Here, they meet to compare their experiences. 

Vicky: I bet your first year as a PC has been a whirlwind. Are you enjoying it? 

Wyn: It’s brilliant. Just going to work is exciting, because anything could happen at any moment. You never know what call will come in next, and I love that unpredictability. Was it the same for you?

V: It certainly was. In 30 years, no two days were ever the same. In my final week on the job, I went from administering CPR on a man who’d collapsed at a bus stop, to dealing with the devastation caused by Storm Eunice. I was in uniform for the whole of my career, and I had an absolute blast along the way, surrounded by incredible colleagues. 

W: And I heard you received a commendation for saving the man’s life? 

V: I did – talk about ending on a high! People always asked me why I never climbed the career ladder, never became a Sergeant or an Inspector, and it’s because I wanted to keep working directly with the public. I think that helping people is what makes our job so rewarding, isn’t it? What has been your most memorable moment so far? 

W: I was recently first on the scene of a stabbing, and I’ll never forget it. There was blood absolutely everywhere. It was a very intense situation, and one wound was very close to his heart. My first-aid training kicked in and I tended him until the paramedics arrived. As a new copper, I didn’t know how I’d react to something like that – but I didn’t freeze, I performed. It was a great feeling. 

V: Wow, well done you. I’d forgotten how hard ICR can be, until I was seconded to it for six months during the pandemic. It was a real eye-opener. You guys work so hard, going from job to job. And each one of those jobs is so different – it’s a very high-pressure environment. 

W: Do you think the essential qualities for police officers have changed over the years? 

V: No. Communication skills, respect for others, strong morals... they’re all just as vital now as they’ve always been. You’ve got to look at every situation as a blank canvas, treat everybody with dignity and respect no matter what they’ve done. 

W: Absolutely, I learned very quickly to keep an open mind: somebody who has been an offender one day might be the victim the next time you see them. I’ve still got one year of training left, can you give me any advice? 

V: You know, I don’t think you need any; I can tell you’ve got a really good head on your shoulders, you’re switched on. That’s essential, and it will take you far – you’ll see. 

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