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DfE troubleshooters to give struggling schools 'financial therapy'

The first 'efficiency advisors' will be deployed next month to schools deemed in need of help with managing their finances

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The first 'efficiency advisors' will be deployed next month to schools deemed in need of help with managing their finances

The government is sending troubleshooters into hard-pressed schools from next month in a bid to provide urgent “financial therapy”, Tes understands.

Dozens of £400-a-day “school efficiency advisers” are being recruited by the Department for Education, and will be sent into schools from January as part of a pilot.

The advisors are all school business managers drawn from the ranks of the Institute for Business Leadership (ISBL) fellows – and will be funded by the DfE.

They are expected to provide schools with tailored advice on how they can use their resources as effectively as possible.

The names of the schools selected to have the support, along with the criteria for choosing them, have not yet been disclosed.

'Efficiency experts'

Earlier this year, education secretary Justine Greening said the “efficiency experts” would “provide targeted support to those schools where financial health is at risk”.

Tes understands that the DfE wants to prevent schools from being issued with a financial notice to improve by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

ISBL fellow Matthew Clements-Wheeler, deputy head of operations at Bordesley Green Girls School in Birmingham, who is hoping to become an advisor, said: “We’ve been told it’s a variety of sizes of trust.”

He added: “I think there is a desire to mandate engagement with the efficiency advisers in the same way that the department can mandate engagement in a governance review or a review of pupil premium expenditure”.

But schools will still make their own final decisions over budgets and finances, he said.

Clements-Wheeler described the role of the advisors as “financial therapy rather than hatchet job”.

Induction and accreditation

To date, 71 ISBL fellows have attended induction days and will go through an accreditation process, according to Bethan Cullen, the institute’s commercial and business development director.

The first accreditation panel, aimed at assuring DfE officials that the advisors will be up to the task, is set to take place this week.

The DfE is looking at academies “in the first instance”, said Cullen.

She described the approach as being about “supporting schools in identifying where efficiencies can be made without impacting on the front line”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We recognise that schools have faced cost pressures in recent years. We will continue to provide support to schools to help them use their funding in the most cost-effective ways and work with local authorities in their role assisting schools to operate in a financially sustainable way”.

“Independent advisors are part of our pilot to provide additional support to schools to help ensure all resources are used as effectively as possible.”

Longer-term roles

If the pilot is successful, the advisors could be given a longer-term role from September 2018.

Val Andrew, business leadership specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders and a member of the DfE’s school and academy funding efficiency sub-group, said: “We were told that there were about 90 schools deemed in need of urgent assistance and they were looking to provide that support very quickly”.

She added: “ASCL welcomes the fact that they are using practitioners from within the sector and we welcome the fact that the DfE has recognised they need to fund the process”.

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