IfATE plans staff cuts after DfE orders cost-saving measures

Apprenticeships and technical education quango opens voluntary exit scheme to all staff

Apprenticeships and technical education quango opens voluntary exit scheme to all staff


The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is stripping back its workforce after being ordered to find savings by the Department for Education.

Staff costs at the quango ballooned from £14.4 million in 2020-21 to £21.5 million in 2022-23 as additional responsibilities were handed to the institute through the skills and post-16 education act.

Over that period the institute’s hiring spree led to its average full-time equivalent staff figure growing from 200 to 298.

But FE Week understands IfATE is now looking to downsize with a voluntary exit scheme opened to all staff.

The institute confirmed it was embarking on a “reorganisation in line with wider civil service efficiency savings”.

IfATE would not say how many posts it is looking to cut or how much it is aiming to reduce its staff costs by.

The DfE was tight-lipped about the reasons behind the instruction. It declined to comment on whether IfATE’s annual budget, which totals £32.7 million in 2023-24, would be reduced or whether any other DfE-sponsored agencies were also told to find savings.

A spokesperson for the institute said: “IfATE has a duty to deliver value for money for taxpayers, so regularly makes sure we are operating as efficiently as possible.

“Our work across occupational maps, apprenticeships, T Levels, higher technical qualifications, and post-16 qualifications remains unchanged, as does our passion for shaping skills training on behalf of employers.”

IfATE restructure follows ESFA clear out

Launched in 2017 to spearhead the government’s apprenticeship reforms, the then-known Institute for Apprenticeships has seen its responsibilities and workforce expand over the past seven years.

“Technical Education” was added to the quango’s name and brief in 2019 as the authority also took over the content of T Levels and procurement for awarding organisations.

The institute had around 80 full-time staff in its first year of operation, a figure which now sits at around 300.

IfATE was recently handed new “powers” as set out in the FE white paper and skills bill, such as defining and approving new categories of technical qualifications as well as reviewing those already on offer and withdrawing their approval where they are no longer performing as expected.

The institute’s restructure follows the Education and Skills Funding Agency halving its staff headcount last year after the Department for Education approved Sir David Bell’s recommendation to strip the agency of its policy responsibilities in 2022.

The ESFA’s annual report published in July 2023 showed its average headcount stood at 829 in the last financial year, down from 1,779 in 2021-22. This brought total staffing costs down from £104 million to £49 million. Most staff were however moved into the DfE.

FE Week is not aware of any other DfE sponsored agencies that are being told to find savings by DfE currently.

Separately, Ofsted, a non-ministerial department that is funded independently by Treasury, has warned that the reliability of inspections will be “compromised” if its funding is “further constrained”.

Ofsted’s chair Dame Christine Ryan said during a September board meeting that actions taken by the watchdog to absorb rising costs are a “short-term fix” and will likely “store up cost pressures” for this year and beyond.

The inspectorate’s funding is now 29 per cent lower in real terms compared with 2009-10, despite its role and responsibilities expanding significantly over that period. 

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  1. Albert Wright

    This is a strange story and makes you wonder how efficent the public sector is in managing its manpower. Massive cuts in department A after massive growth and cuts and growth in B and C as work intensity changes seems very disruptive and expensive.

    This is on top of the anxiety faced at an individual location and personal level .

    • Dan Jones

      The DfE mothership will of course continue to have vast resources to splurge on the ABS, making apprenticeship rules up for fun so they’re impossible to delivery, employing people to gain feedback on policy which they’ll choose to ignore, then employ more people to find out why participation on things ranging from t levels to apprenticeships to HTQs isn’t what the original set of employees who’ve now moved on elsewhere thought it would be. There was an episode of Yes Minister once which proposed getting rid of the education department, taking out the middle-man and giving all the savings to schools and colleges directly….. Looks like Sir Humphrey is still alive and well creating jobs for the boys and girls.

  2. Tony. Allen

    Will we notice any difference in delivery, communication or competency if there are fewer civil servants in IFATE, ESFA or DfE for that matter? I doubt it. (I speak as a former civil servant).