Colleges will be given access to the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s army of cost-cutting advisers from September.

The ESFA today announced a new suite of measures that it says will be a more “proactive” approach to help colleges “realise and re-invest savings and to spot early warning indicators of financial issues”.

It involves a pilot of a new “curriculum efficiency and financial sustainability” programme which aims to assist colleges in finding ways to make savings, a move which FE Week revealed was on the cards in November 2020.

The scheme builds on the School Resource Management Adviser programme introduced by then-academies minister Lord Agnew (pictured) in 2018.

An evaluation of the trial, which involved up to 250 money-saving advisers, did find that it helped over 70 multi-academy trusts either save or generate new income of over £35 million.

But the programme did cause controversy after FE Week’s sister publication FE Week discovered that schools were being advised to replace experienced teachers with support staff on term-time contracts and urged to limit lunch portions for pupils.

Today’s announcement of a cost-cutting programme for colleges is light on detail so it is not clear at this stage whether it will be free, voluntary, or open to all colleges.

The ESFA also announced today that it will remove the ‘early intervention’ category and “some of the restrictions around support that currently entails”.

Instead, the agency will run a pilot where any college will be able to request expert help and support from the FE Commissioner through a diagnostic assessment – a process that was previously only open to colleges where a new principal had been appointed. These assessments result in unpublished reports, and aim to help colleges identify potential financial issues before they occur.

There will also be “increased support” available from the National Leaders of Further Education and of Governance programmes, and through access to Local Provision Reviews.

The new suite of measures follow Dame Mary Ney’s independent review of college financial oversight, which concluded there needs to be a shift to “nurturing and supporting” all colleges on an individual basis to spot early signs of weakness.

It also comes two weeks after the ESFA launched a consultation on proposals to simplify funding and accountability arrangements in FE.

Kirsty Evans, ESFA director of further education, said: “To ensure we can continue to build back better and recover, colleges will be critical to upskilling the future workforce, so it feels timely to introduce a more supportive and preventative, rather than reactive, approach to intervention, as recommended in Dame Mary Ney’s review.

“Through a new curriculum efficiency and financial sustainability pilot we are keen to learn from the sector where efficiencies can be made, and we want to share good practice, ideas and lessons we are learning from the sector to help prevent colleges going into financial decline.”

The ESFA claimed that its reforms should shorten the length of time a college spends in intervention.

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  1. David Priestly

    Well it looks like the end of the Richard Atkins ‘abusive’ approach to Colleges. The ‘shooting first and asking questions later’ regime resulted in few if any financial gains along side a series of failed enforced mergers, and TU funds bailed repeatedly to colleges. Did it improve quality? Student experience? I very much doubt.

    The Richard Atkins approach to colleges (or the raac for short) did little for the sector, and it took the destruction of a number of college groups, including the only insolvency (one presumes to test the legislation – there is no other gain) for the Mary Ney report. The ‘bullying’ tactics that will no doubt come out in further reviews should never be repeated (it is also no longer fashionable post COVID-19). Mr Atkins will no doubt polish his CBE and reflect on his tenure, however I would urge others to raise the profile of what the sector suffered and how it has survived positively into a new regime. FE is brilliant and it takes innovators who take risks to deliver the right result for the students.

    Sorry to see Nick Linford go – won’t be the same without the ‘shock college reports’ and the shaming of principals by being put on the Raac. Seems a missed opportunity that there is no commentary..……..