DfE accused of wasting public money with new £10m 'register of external experts'

The Department for Education will spend £10 million on 200 “external experts” to advise it on policy areas including university technical colleges, vocational education and sixth forms.

A tender document published this week reveals that the department is searching for organisations to join a “register of external experts”, made up of “individuals who have expertise and experience at a senior level in the education sector”.

In particular, the government is looking for experts in safeguarding, counter-extremism, free schools, university technical colleges, the curriculum and general education. The register will initially only include a maximum of 200 experts, but may be reopened in the future, the tender document states.

When FE Week enquired about the decision to have no FE-specific representation in the six categories, a DfE spokesperson claimed that the sector would be covered under “general educationalist”.

He said further tender documents state that this category has a subsection for FE and sixth forms, vocational education and studio schools.

Kevin Courtney (pictured), the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the planned £10 million register was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“If the government’s education policy was coherent and well-thought-through, they would not need to throw taxpayers’ money away on experts employed to put a spin on the problems they have caused,” he said.

“To avoid yet more mistakes and to ensure that children and young people get an education system that works, the DfE should be seeking advice from the teaching profession.”

The government is likely to face particular criticism for its plans to spend even more money on advisers for free-school and UTC programmes, after FE Week’s sister paper Schools Week revealed last year that the DfE spent almost £100 million on advice for these projects in just three years.

According to the tender document, the new register of external experts will encourage applications from those “with a broad range of experience and expertise” from across England’s nine regions.

However, appointment to the register will not guarantee the award of any work, but will allow advisers to “bid for specific work opportunities made available by the DfE”.

A DfE spokesperson defended the register.

“We are doing exactly as suggested – using experts from the education profession to support the department’s decision-making,” she said.

“We regularly use a range of education experts. This includes individuals with years of hands-on experience working as teachers and leaders within the education profession.

“This procurement will focus on securing important operational expertise at improved value for money.”