DfE pledges to publish breakdown of cost-cutters' savings

Ministers will publish a breakdown of recommendations made by its team of cost-cutting advisers later this year.

The Department for Education refused a request by Schools Week last December for documents showing a breakdown of the £35 million of savings that academies minister Lord Agnew claimed his school resource management advisers had helped schools identify.

The department intends to publish a breakdown of the opportunities identified by school resource management advisers as part of a wider published evaluation of the pilot programme later this year

In response to our freedom of information request, the DfE said officials were doing “further analysis” of the savings identified, and would then consider releasing the information.

However Nick Gibb, the schools minister, confirmed today that his department now intends to publish a breakdown of the “opportunities” identified by the school resource management advisers. However it will be part of a “wider published evaluation of the pilot programme later this year”.

The advisers scheme was launched by the government last year with a budget of £2.3 million to employ up to 250 advisers to provide “impartial, expert business advice” on how to make best use of revenue and capital resources.

Agnew told the Institute for School Business Leadership conference in November that the government’s school resource management advisers had identified average savings of nearly £500,000 across the 72 schools or trusts they had visited.

The DfE wouldn’t release details of the savings, stating the advisers’ reports contain commercially sensitive information. The department said it had been “clear” findings would only be shared between the trust/school and the government.

However Schools Week obtained some of the reports, revealing earlier this month that school leaders had been urged to limit pupils’ lunch portions, keep money raised for charity and replace senior staff with less well-qualified teachers on poorer contracts to save money.

The investigation prompted widespread condemnation across the education sector, with Theresa May challenged over the findings during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Gibb also refused to say whether he backed the advice when questioned during a parliamentary education committee, instead claiming the Schools Week investigation took the recommendations “out of context”.

Agnew, who once bet school leaders a bottle of champagne that he could find savings in their schools, said the advisers are “part of a package of support to help schools get the best value out of their budgets”.

Writing for Schools Week, he added: “Their work is not something that should be viewed in isolation, taken out of context, or, as Schools Week chose to do, framed as a cost-cutting initiative with the aim of improving trusts’ bottom lines.”