The Education and Skills Funding Agencies are preparing for an imminent merger that will clear the way for their boss Peter Lauener to retire, FE Week has learned.

Mr Lauener held the role of EFA chief executive before he took on the top job at the SFA in November 2014, and has already overseen major reforms to bring the agencies closer together.

This accelerated after the DfE took over full responsibilities for skills training last July.

To add to his workload, Mr Lauener was additionally appointed as shadow chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships last September.

The IfA will play a key role in policing the development of new standards, as well as the quality assurance of apprenticeship assessments, once widespread reforms come into effect from May.

At some point we may come back to question of whether there should be a merged agency

While any streamlining of the agencies might ultimately improve the system, if Mr Lauener’s departure came at the same time as the biggest systematic reform to the FE system in a generation, especially in the wake of the April launch of the new apprenticeship levy, the sector could experience huge shockwaves.

He was asked about a possible merger of the SFA and EFA by FE Week editor Nick Linford in February last year, when he said he was trying to put the question “to one side”, although he accepted that “at some point we may come back to question of whether there should be a merged agency”.

The number of permanent staff at the SFA fell from 1,241 in April 2014 to 899 by October 2015, though staff numbers increased at the EFA over the same period, from 753 to 837.

During the interview, Mr Lauener suggested that the two agencies could end up sharing service teams covering finance, IT and data as soon as that April, in a move that has yet to come to pass.

Previous comings-together between the agencies have so far come via a joint area review delivery unit and intervention team.

The SFA press office effectively ceased to exist last July, when ownership for older FE learners passed from the former Department for Business

Innovation and Skills to the DfE, which already spoke for the EFA.

The centralisation of all skills responsibilities to the DfE has further diminished the case for maintaining separate agencies.

FE Week asked Mr Lauener about the merger and his retirement plans on March 1 at the AoC’s Governance Summit in London.

He declined to comment on “speculation”, as did the DfE.

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