‘Significant issues’ in training reforms, school rebuilds and tutoring, say officials

Ten of 11 DfE major projects are now rated 'amber', with fears over delivering them on time and on budget

Ten of 11 DfE major projects are now rated 'amber', with fears over delivering them on time and on budget

20 Jul 2022, 13:54

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Government officials have warned of “significant issues” in the rollout of teacher training and T-level reforms, school rebuilds and the National Tutoring Programme.

Newly published documents reveal the projects have been handed “amber” ratings, under a traffic light system which shows their chances of being delivered on time and on budget.

Such ratings mean successful delivery is “feasible”, but “significant issues already exist, requiring management attention”.

Ten of 11 major Department for Education projects are currently scored as amber, the Infrastructure Projects Authority’s annual report reveals. It marks a higher proportion than average across all government departments.

Teacher training: Fears over demand and ‘tight’ deadlines

They include wide-ranging teacher professional development reforms, including the early career framework, national professional qualifications and the new National Institute of Teaching.

While the department highlights “significant progress”, the amber rating reflects “key programme risks around long-term demand for NPQs, and tight timescales for successfully launching the Institute of Teaching.”

It adds: “We recognise that these are challenges but are confident that effective delivery remains achievable.”

Spending in 2021-22 also came in a quarter below forecasts, with no explanation given as for other projects. Meanwhile the DfE has more than doubled its predicted lifetime costs for the reforms to £761.2 million.

While this partly reflects planning for more years ahead, it also reflects “larger cohorts and more participants”, despite the apparent question mark over long-term demand. The controversial market review of initial teacher training is also rated amber.

£62 million National Tutoring Programme underspend

The NTP, the government’s main Covid catch-up initiative, saw only £226 million of a £288 million budget spent in 2021-2022, marking a 22 per cent underspend.

The government said £29.5 million was returned from year-one delivery partners “related to contract efficiencies and lower delivery than anticipated”.

Uptake on the core offer of the NTP was also “lower than anticipated on both pillars”, and some underspend reflected “savings against delivery and delivery lower than forecast”.

Ministers announced earlier this year they would transfer £65 million into school-led tutoring, saying they had “listened” to the sector amid sluggish takeup and criticism of the programme overall.

But the amber rating for the NTP marked an improvement on last year’s amber-red score, with the school-led approach “outperforming” tuition partner and academic mentor routes.

The expansion of the school-led offer and planned future partial subsidies mean the programme’s lifetime predicted cost has ballooned from £523.7 million to £1.12 billion.

School rebuilding programmes ‘amber’

Two of the government’s high-profile school building initiatives continue to be rated amber, in a blow to ministers.

Building work had only started on seven of 500 promised projects this decade under the flagship school rebuilding programme as of last September, the most recent figures provided.

Only 161 schools have also been selected so far under the scheme, unveiled by prime minister Boris Johnson in June 2020.

The government declined to publish its forecast and actual spending in 2020-21 and expected lifetime costs of the programme as part of the IPA’s report, however.

Rory Kennedy, DfE director of capital, is quoted in the report saying the department had set itself “very ambitious and stretching targets in a highly volatile commercial environment”.

He also said the IPA had helped the DfE to “up our game where we really needed to in a number of key areas”.

But documents state the priority school building programme – the government’s main scheme for most of the past decade – is “on track” to hit targets, with more than 95 per cent of projects in contract.

One had to seek a new contractor after the appointed supplier collapsed, while another was deemed not in scope.

While there have been some on-site delays due to Covid, contractors have “been able to make time up”.

T-level uncertainty

Officials appear more confident in the rollout of T-levels than last year, with their score rising from amber-red to amber.

It comes in spite of considerable fluctuation in official projections for the lifetime costs of the rollout of the government’s new A-level equivalent vocational qualifications.

The documents suggest projected lifetime costs have see-sawed from an expected £155.6 million in 2019-20 to £1.1 billion in March 2021, to £1.8 billion in June 2021, to £918.5 million in March 2022.

They say variation reflects actual spending so far, spending review decisions and annual business planning.

The DfE has denied having recruitment targets for T-levels overall, but an investigation by our sister paper FE Week found nine in 10 providers missed enrolment targets this academic year.

School buying success

The only DfE project securing a green rating – meaning success appears “highly likely” – was its schools buying programme, perhaps fittingly for a programme focused on efficiency.

While the programme’s expected lifetime costs have jumped from £154.2 million to £181 million, this is attributed to a widened remit for water and energy efficiency rather than any issues.

Work includes the Get Help Buying for Schools project, with its rollout “on track”, and adding cyber-cover to the risk protection arrangement used by many schools.

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