DfE to spend £2.3m on new army of cost-cutting consultants

The Department for Education plans to spend £2.3 million on at least 160 money-saving advisers who will be parachuted into struggling schools to help them cut costs.

A team of school resource management advisers has been working with a small number of schools since January, providing “impartial, expert business advice” on how to make best use of revenue and capital resources.

The Department for Education (DfE) said the trial, which also had involvement from the Institute of School Business Leadership, won positive feedback from the sector. It is now planning to significantly ramp up the scheme.

Official documents show the department wants to recruit at least 160 advisers over the course of between two and three years – however as many as 250 advisers could be recruited. It has set aside a pot of £2.3 million for the scheme.

Schools Week understands that advisers will be paid £400 a day, a similar rate to the pilot.

SRMAs have been well received by the schools and trusts in the pilot who can see the real value of this service.

Tender documents, published last Friday, show advisors will “help schools and trusts identify opportunities to make better use of their resources, enabling them to target resources where they have the most impact on outcomes for children.”

However in the “highest risk cases” advisers will provide “advice and support to address current or future forecast deficits”.

Schools Week understands that advisers will focus on schools’ staffing costs, including working with trust chief executives and senior leaders.

Matthew Clements-Wheeler, chair of the ISBL, told Schools Week: “The SRMA pilot demonstrated there is a demand for experienced help and support for managing school finance.

“This means looking at the tough decision and making unpopular choices. Whilst I would always advise for more money for schools, we have to understand that schools and trusts are ultimately limited by what the government is prepared to fund.”

The advisers will work with schools, academy trusts and local authorities, and the initial programme will run from October 2018 to the end of August 2020.

Another tender for an organisation to induct and accredit the advisers, valued at £152,000, closed earlier this week

The tender document states: “This is part of the department’s overarching objective to help schools improve outcomes for pupils and promote social mobility, by getting the best value from all of their resources.”

An initial expansion of the advisers network was announced by Lord Agnew, the academies minister, in May

Speaking to school business leaders, Agnew said the advisers will help to maximise resources and free up more time for teachers. At the time, ministers wanted to reach around 60 schools by the end of this month ahead of a national expansion in September.

Further details were confirmed in July, when the government officially announced its intention to put the contract out to tender, and heralded the initial pilot as “encouraging”.

“SRMAs have been well received by the schools and trusts in the pilot who can see the real value of this service. Initial findings from the pilot suggest we need to increase the number of SRMAs to meet current and future demand.”

Further details about the advisers is also included in the government’s new school resource management strategy. According to the document, the advisers will use data and benchmarking to “help schools understand their position and how it compares to that of schools which are
similar in characteristics and challenges”.

They will also help school leaders “establish the analysis and tools that will most help them in improving their school’s resource management”.

In some circumstances, they will also help schools and trusts develop approaches to planning that “combine curriculum and financial planning into a joint, data-informed exercise”.