The Education Funding and Skills Funding Agencies are merging and Peter Lauener is stepping down as boss of both, the government has confirmed.
First revealed by our sister paper FE Week back on March 3, the move has now been announced online by the Department for Education.
The agency will be re-named as the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
Currently, the Education Funding Agency manages funding for all school provision up to the age of 19, while the Skills Funding Agency financed training for older learners.
The merger is aimed at cutting confusion and duplication across the agencies.
But the timing of the move, before huge administrative changes coming with the April apprenticeship levy launch, has caused consternation – with criticisms already piling onto the EFA regarding its ability to oversee the academies programme and squeezed school budgets. The change in leadership, and additional internal reorganisation, only add to the agencies’ workloads.
But education secretary Justine Greening said: “Creating the Education and Skills Funding Agency will mean we are able to provide a more joined-up approach to funding and regulation of schools, colleges and other providers, with improved accountability and better service.
“We will be working closely with our staff, unions, stakeholders and the education sector to finalise and deliver our plans for the new agency.”
The two agencies have been operating as a shared service for the past two years, according to David Hughes, now chief executive of the Association of Colleges.
“Streamlining some of the rules will help students, some will save money,” he added.
But the EFA has been roundly criticised by both the National Audit Office, the government watchdog, and the Public Accounts Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, in recent months.
In October, the watchdog released a report condemning the EFA for its slow intervention in poorly performing academies – which it now oversees.
Peter Lauener, head of the EFA, admitted he was “not happy” with delays in their approach.
And in December, the NAO released a second report, criticising the EFA for failing to evaluate the impact of its financial interventions.
In a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee in January, MPs accused the EFA of an “optimism bias” in its financial planning and of lacking a strategy to support schools reduce their outgoings.
Lauener reflected on the possibility of an SFA and EFA merger during an interview in February last year, saying at the time he was trying to put the question “to one side”, although he accepted that “at some point we may come back to question of whether there should be a merged agency”.
He had already overseen significant moves to share workloads between the SFA and EFA.
The centralisation of all skills responsibilities to the DfE further diminished the case for maintaining separate agencies.
The number of permanent staff at the SFA fell from 1,241 in April 2014, to 899 by October 2015, though staff numbers increased at the EFA over the same period, from 753 to 837.