The chief executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) Eileen Milner is to stand down, FE Week can reveal.

The senior civil servant told staff today that the “time has come” for her to “go to a new challenge”.

Milner was appointed in 2017 shortly after the organisation formed through the merger of the Education Funding Agency and Skills Funding Agency.

The ESFA is an executive agency of the Department for Education responsible for funding education and skills for children, young people and adults.

It is not yet known where Milner is moving to, but in a letter to staff she said there was an “important role for me to undertake in the area that I call home and that feels important to do, to try and make a contribution, most especially in the context of recovery from the pandemic”.

According to Milner’s LinkedIn profile, she is based in the “greater Cambridge area”.

A DfE spokesperson confirmed Milner was leaving her position and “we want to thank her for her work over the last three-and-a-half years and wish her all the best for the future”.

“An interim appointment to the position of chief executive and accounting officer will be made in due course.”

However, the spokesperson would not say exactly when Milner was leaving, nor where she was moving on to.

Milner joined the ESFA from the Care Quality Commission, where she was an executive director. According to her profile on the government’s website, she started her career in local government, specialising in education services, before moving into higher education.

The civil servant told colleagues she had been “both delighted and apprehensive” to join the ESFA in 2017.

“Delighted to be able to return to education, but naturally apprehensive about quite what challenges I might face – strangely enough, a pandemic didn’t feature in my list of worries!”

But Milner said she could say with “absolute confidence” that she had “never had a day when I have regretted taking up the role, and frankly, in the toughest of times, the reason for that has been entirely down to all of you”.

She said the “sense of community and family” created by ESFA staff was “truly exceptional and I am so thankful for it”.

Milner also said the organisation was “blessed in so many ways in terms of our people and in terms of ongoing leadership”, describing the quality of the executive team as “exceptional”.

“They are collectively committed to ensuring that the transition to new leadership happens as smoothly and supportively as possible. I will, of course, be looking to have the opportunity to say farewell properly to you in the coming weeks.

“For now though, we will carry on doing what we always do – being absolutely committed to delivering at a level of excellence and expertise.”

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  1. Bob Smith

    We need an appointment from outside of the civil service now. The ESFA is a shambles these days and this is the perfect opportunity to shake things up.

  2. Paul Griffiths

    Whomever replaces Eileen Milner needs to be a good listener to the sector and institutions the ESFA fund.

    The role is a tricky one, caught in the middle between Ministers/Whitehall and the sector itself, but equally it’s an influential role and operates best with informed practitioner led policy and practice – yes civil servants advise and ministers decide but if that advice is rounded and comes from a place of practical not just analytical knowledge it surely helps challenge some of the more illogical decisions that come out from time to time.

    It feels very us and them at times and actually the sector will always respond but a Chief Executive that takes the time to really understand what rubs the sector up the wrong way or how we actually implement things on the ground would be hugely beneficial.

    It’s time for the ESFA and Civil Servants to get out more and a Senior Leader that leads from the front and ensures his/her staff thoroughly understand who they’re funding (not just what they’re funding) will be a positive move.

  3. Gavin Brain

    @Paul Griffiths. I tend to agree. However the way the Civil Service recruit, means that this will never happen and the revolving door of clueless experts will ensure a senior civil servant from another area will be drafted in to do more damage before parachuting out to wreak havoc somewhere else.

  4. EthicsinFE

    She presided over the worst achievement rates in years, financial collapse in Colleges and a FE commissioner who was toxic. How about a plus and minus poll FE week? Same for Atkins, and OFSTED?

    Free from bias? That would be refreshing.