Education department review signals 25% job cuts

A leaked review of the Department for Education (DfE) sets out plans to cut about 1000 jobs, introduce a project team-based structure, focus work on “ministerial priorities” and radically reduce office space.

By Civil Service World

14 Nov 2012

Today’s Times carries details of the leaked planning document, which was commissioned during the development of the Civil Service Reform Plan. The department intends to cut staff by one-quarter, it says, and break up many fixed thematic teams – with staff instead moving as required between flexible, time-limited teams set up to meet specific objectives.

The Times reports that spending will be cut by £290m, with about 1,000 civil servants facing redundancy within two years. Excerpts of the review provided online show that the emphasis is on reducing the department’s size, speeding up processes and decision-making, and cutting costs and duplication of effort.

Starting from a “zero base”, the review has considered how the department can meet its statutory requirements and respond to ministerial directions, in a bid to cut out unnecessary activity. It argues that there is scope to “stop significant amounts of work”, directing resources to areas where ministers have “higher priorities” or where implementing decisions “could be done more effectively”.

The DfE will conduct a “stop exercise” that will “identify work to stop, in line with ministerial priorities”. The review also suggests that the existing structure is seen as unable to quickly move staff and funding in order to respond to ministers’ ambitions, saying that there’s a need to “regularly re-prioritise” and “build ministers’ trust in our assessments of resource need”. Programmes that don’t loom large on ministers’ radar are set to be squeezed, as officials concentrate on Gove’s programme of free schools and academies.

These programmes presented the reviews’ authors with a dilemma, as the growth in the number of schools managed directly from Whitehall will increase workloads as head counts fall. The report concludes that the way the department works with these schools will be “sustainable until around one-quarter of schools are converted”. It expects this proportion of academies and free schools to be converted by about March 2015, and raises a policy question about how to work with them after this point in time - “which we need to start thinking about now,” it says.

The workforce’s flexibility will be improved with the adoption of a project team-based structure, as currently used by the environment and culture departments. “Not enough staff are working on projects with end points, which limits our ability to use flexible resourcing to respond quickly to new priorities by redeploying staff,” the review says. It recommends that the numbers of DfE staff placed in “limited standing teams” increase from three to 30 per cent: they will work on “clearly defined projects with end points”, enabling managers to deploy staff to the areas of greatest need. Parts of the DfE set to move to this structure include the Education Standard Directorate (which works on exams, teacher training, curriculum, and school performance data), and the Children, Young People and Families Directorate (which focuses on social work, adoption, safeguarding children, and special educational needs).

On property, the review sets out a plan to close six regional offices in Darlington, Runcorn, Bristol, Guildford, Histon and Nottingham; and to move its London headquarters to a cheaper site in Westminster by 2017.

The review was set out in the reform plan, which explained that the DfE would be “conducting a zero-based budget review” to rethink its structure and processes from first principles. The move has been seen as a concession to education secretary Michael Gove, who would have liked to see a more radical reform plan – but the department’s permanent secretary Chris Wormald has also played a key role.

Speaking to CSW after the launch of the reform plan, cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood was clear that “it’s not Michael Gove’s review. It’s Michael Gove and Chris Wormald’s review. It’s very much a collaborative effort between the new permanent secretary and the secretary of state.”

Heywood argued that “it’s not unusual, when a new permanent secretary comes in, that they want to take another look at the organisation, at its structure and so on. That’s what Chris Wormald wants to do, with the full support of his secretary of state.”


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