New “delivery managers” are to visit schools and identify problems with the way the Department for Education works, it has emerged.
Job adverts published last week are seeking managers to join a DfE programme called ‘Building our department together’.
Three people will be paid up to £71,000 a year to talk to schools and “ask them what problems they encounter” when working with the department.
This is part of the DfE’s new drive to build a new school improvement function which it hopes will tackle the problem of underperformance in some academies.
The campaign was launched last June as a transformation programme to explore “better ways to deliver the department’s activity with schools”.
However, officials admitted they “do not yet know” which activities they want to improve, though it will likely include school efficiency and financial health, as well as teacher sufficiency and safeguarding.
The delivery managers will trial improvement activities, first in “small pockets” of south-east of England and south London.
A DfE spokesperson said the programme was part of an “internal infrastructure” project, and would be delivered at “no additional cost to the taxpayer”.
But Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the move was a “desperate attempt” to counter recent criticism, adding that the advert was unclear, and “badly written”.
“The DfE doesn’t know which way is up,” she said. “They have been criticised for not knowing about issues around teacher recruitment and retention, and having no proper idea about how academies are spending their money.
“This is just an admission that the department is completely detached from the schools it is now overseeing. It’s more of the same, appointing civil servants to oversee a detached and fragmenting school system.”
She wants to see more “democratic regional oversight”.
These are the latest in a series of new school-facing posts the DfE has created at regional offices in recent years.
One of the most notable changes resulting from academy growth has been the creation and rapid expansion of the department’s regional schools commissioner group.
There are eight RSCs, whose teams and power have grown substantially as the number of academies has increased.
Last year, Schools Week reported that 19 deputy directors had been appointed to support the RSCs, while earlier this month, the DfE put out a call to recruit “school improvement” roles at an RSC’s office.
As of May this year, the DfE employed 3,519 people, up from 2,323 in May 2016.
The increase is partly down to the arrival of some staff who used to work at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills after a shakeup last July, but the DfE won’t say exactly how many people moved over. Some of the staff increase is understood to be linked to the DfE’s increasing involvement in schools.