12 ESFA staff get £50k+ exit packages amid restructure

Annual accounts of funding agency also reveal how £5.8m in debts owed by academies have been written-off

Annual accounts of funding agency also reveal how £5.8m in debts owed by academies have been written-off

17 Jul 2023, 14:07

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The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) handed out 12 “exit packages” of more than £50,000 last year amid a restructure that halved its staff.

The revelation is one of the main findings from the ESFA’s annual report and accounts for 2022-23, which has been published today.

Here’s what you need to know…

1. Dozens of pay-outs as ESFA jobs cut

The Department for Education approved Sir David Bell’s recommendation to more than halve the number of officials working for the ESFA more than 12 months ago.

And the annual report showed its average headcount stood at 829 in the last financial year, down from 1,779 in 2021-22.

The amount spent on salaries tumbled from almost £76 million to £35.5 million over the same period.

Although many staff moved to the Department for Education as part of the restructure, the documents revealed 28 exit packages – totalling £1.38 million – were agreed over the last year. None were approved in 2021-22.

Of the payments signed off, 11 were between £25,000 and £50,000, and 12 were between £50,000 and £100,000.

2. £5.8m academy debts waived

In a bid to push through academy transfers, the ESFA wrote off around £5.8 million in cash owed to the government by academies as “rebrokerage debt forgiveness”.

This included £1.15 million owed by Steiner free schools.

Snap inspections of nine state and private Steiner schools at the end of 2018 found six were ‘inadequate’ and three ‘requires improvement’. Three of the state schools – Steiner Academy Bristol, Steiner Academy Frome and Steiner Academy Exeter – were later transferred to a new sponsor.

Sums of more than £2 million owed by Greater Brighton Metropolitan College and Challenger Multi-Academy Trust were also waived.

Balances owed by academies and colleges “may in some circumstances be waived to facilitate the re-brokerage of the academy or college to a more sustainable academy trust or college, or support closure”, the report said.

3. Ombudsman probed four complaints against ESFA

During the last financial year, the ESFA said it was made aware of four complaints against it being lodged with the parliamentary and health service ombudsman.

The watchdog declined to probe two of the cases. Of the others, one was upheld and the other is “still with the PHSO to decide whether it will be accepted for full investigation”.

No further details of the probes were given in the document.

“PHSO reports full data with a year delay and the ESFA is not always made aware at the time that a complaint has been made,” the report added. “This figure represents a small proportion of total complaints made to ESFA and the department.”

4. Cost-cutter visits on the rise

The government’s cost-cutters – or “school resource management advisers” – conducted 416 visits over the financial year. This figure is up from 366 in 2021-22.

The report said the advisers “have provided a consistently good service”.

“Ninety-two per cent of respondents to our survey reported their experience good or very good (87 per cent 2021-22) and 90 per cent found the [SRMA] recommendations useful (79 per cent in 2021-22).”

Despite this, the papers did not state the total savings SRMAs were able to identify over the period.

5. Trusts causing significant concern down by 25%

The ESFA reported that the number of “academy trusts of concern” had reduced over the course of 2022-23.

Those regarded as being in the worst state tumbled by 24 per cent, from 59 to 45. The chains receiving “active intervention” also fell by a tenth, from 126 to 113.

Meanwhile, the number of active notices to improve dropped from 28 in April 2022 to 18 in March 2023.

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