DfE launches voluntary exit scheme in bid to cut 10% of staff

800 jobs to go as those without “skills the department needs for the future” invited to apply for VE
Photo: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

The Department for Education has launched a voluntary exit scheme in a bid to slash spending on skills it no longer needs and cut around 10% of its staff.

The VE scheme – which was first reported by Schools Week – aims to cut down on staff “who don’t have the skills the department needs for the future”. 

Managers will assess would-be leavers’ applications using a “robust and fair selection process”, DfE staff were told in an all-staff memo. This will take into account factors including the employee’s skills and “future operating models”, it said.

Those with “hard-to-replace specialist skills” are unlikely to be offered voluntary exit, the memo said.

Managers will “readdress priorities based on capacity and adjust workload accordingly” where staff leave and are not replaced.

The message to staff said the department wanted to reduce its headcount to “closer” to its 2020 level – losing more than 800 jobs.

As of September, there were 8,242 full-time equivalent staff working in DfE and its agencies, including 7,209 in the core department – down from 7,379 FTE staff overall two years previously.

But the memo said departmental leaders did not plan on making redundancies, and that the VE scheme was “entirely voluntary”.

“No one should feel pressurised into applying or taking a voluntary exit package,” it added.

It said a VE scheme would enable the department to “move quickly, to be more confident that those who are leaving aren’t taking our best skills with them, and, when it is done, to operate with more freedom and flexibility than a long, slow attrition”.

“Natural attrition” was ministers’ favoured approach to cutting the bulk of jobs needed to hit former prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans to cut civil service numbers by around 91,000.

While the 91,000 jobs target has now been axed, job losses are expected, with prime minister Rishi Sunak telling departments last week to "maximise efficiency within budgets”.

Unlike some other departments – including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which quickly implemented a hiring freeze – DfE said it wanted to avoid “an extended period of slow and difficult recruitment constraints”.

Staff who take the voluntary exit package next May will receive three weeks’ pay for each year they have worked at the department.

The terms are in line with the “standard tariff” outlined in proposals this summer that would slash payouts for both voluntary and compulsory departures.

Under the terms, the standard three week-per-year offer for those leaving through voluntary schemes would be capped at a maximum payout of 18 months’ salary – a significant downgrade from the existing terms, which allowed for a month’s salary a year, up to 21 months’ total.

VE is more flexible than VR schemes, and the department is therefore not obliged to offer the month-a-year terms.

A consultation document on changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme in August said the government believed VE to be “the best form of exit for both employer and employee”.

But while “flexible use” of VE would be encouraged, there was no need for those leaving through voluntary exit to be offered higher payouts than those taking voluntary redundancy.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are always looking at how we can operate in the most efficient way possible, and this includes looking at our workforce. The department grew to address recent challenges but now some of that extra capacity is not necessary. However, rather than top-down numbers targets, we are concentrating on having a skilled, effective workforce for the future that allows us to do the best we can for children and learners.

“To do that, we have taken the sensible decision to launch a selective voluntary exit scheme. This will support those who wish to leave the department, and who do not have the key skills we need for the future, to do so. This is an approach that many organisations use and it will help us to retain our best talent as we manage our workforce.”

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