ESFA shake-up places a new director of funding in charge of its £63 billion budget

The Education and Skills Funding Agency is preparing to move towards a “single Funding Operations Centre of Excellence” as it appoints its first overall director of funding.

The agency is expected to announce who has been given the coveted position in the coming days. The successful candidate will be responsible for the “development, implementation and maintenance of a truly 21st-century funding system”.

The funding director, who will control more than £63 billion of government money, will take charge of delivering the national post-16 funding agenda, including apprenticeships as well as the national funding formula for pre-16 schools.

The job description for the role, which went live at the end of last year, said the ESFA is “moving towards a single Funding Operations Centre of Excellence, bringing together and improving existing functions”.

However, the Department for Education would not comment on what the centre of excellence was.

The term “centres of excellence” has become fairly common in business. A company sets up a centre of excellence department and, rather than being purely operational, the centre also has a role to improve expertise and discover best practice in a certain area in order to share this knowledge with other departments.

This approach has been taken by other government departments. For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs runs an earth observations centre of excellence, alongside other external partners, to focus on how data from satellites complements existing datasets to deliver policy and services, and a best-practice centre to improve the management of existing private finance initiative deals is being piloted in the Department of Health and Social Care.

The Department for International Development has provided a five year grant to the Centre of Excellence for Development Impact and Learning, which develops and tests methods for evaluation and evidence synthesis, while the Government Communication Service has brought together digital experts across Whitehall in its Digital Centre of Expertise to offer support and insight to other departments.

The new ESFA funding director will report directly to the chief executive, Eileen Milner, alongside fellow ESFA directors Mike Pettifer (academies and maintained schools group), Peter Mucklow (further education) and Keith Smith (apprenticeships).

The director takes the post at a time of change for the ESFA. In 2019/20 the government will devolve the adult education budget to the Greater London Authority and six other combined authorities around England, but concerns have been raised that the rushed time frame could cause “market instability” in the sector.

Meanwhile the first three T-level pathways – in education, construction and digital routes – will be taught by 50 training providers from 2020, with a further seven pathways expected to begin in 2021. The funding methodology for T-levels is currently being consulted on.

And the long-awaited national funding formula for schools is set to be rolled out fully by 2021 after ministers delayed its implementation by a year to support a “smooth transition”.