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Exclusive: Fears over effectiveness of 'rushed' DfE curriculum fund

Schools left 'scrabbling' to ready curriculum fund provision over Christmas break after DfE told them delivery had to begin in January

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Schools left 'scrabbling' to ready curriculum fund provision over Christmas break after DfE told them delivery had to begin in January

Concerns have been raised that a rushed launch and squeezed timescales for a flagship government fund aimed at cutting teacher workload could limit its effectiveness, Tes can reveal.

Tes has spoken to several bidders who have been told by the Department for Education that their application for a share of the government’s new curriculum fund has been successful.

However, the bidders were informed just days before the Christmas holidays that they had to begin delivering in January – resulting in a last-minute scramble to get things ready over the holidays.

The schools were also told by the DfE to budget for their proposals over a much shorter time period than they had originally expected.

They questioned the effectiveness of this approach, with one bidder suggesting it could be the “prelude” to the government reducing its funding for the programme.

The £7.7 million curriculum fund was set up to give schools grants to help share teaching resources with other schools, with the aim of saving teachers from having to repeatedly create lesson plans from scratch.

The DfE said that funding for the pilot of the programme “is for schools that have developed knowledge-rich curriculum programmes”.

Last July, the government came under fire because of its decision to open bids for the fund at the start of the summer break – with a deadline two weeks into the start of the new academic year.

Now Tes can reveal that the timing of the next stage of the process has provoked equal criticism.

Tes has spoken to bidders – who preferred not to be identified – who were informed by the DfE that they had been successful just days before the Christmas holidays.

The bidders were told to have schools lined up and to begin rolling out their resources in January, which, in the words of one bidder, left them “scrabbling” to talk to schools at the end of December.

“If you want to deliver this thing, it’s not okay to give us a week’s notice before the end of term,” the bidder told Tes.

They also questioned the effectiveness of giving schools new resources part-way through the academic year. While the curriculum fund is supposed to reduce teacher workload and stress, they suggested this would do the opposite.

“There’s nothing more stressful than saying to a teacher a week before the end of term: ‘by the way you’re going to teach something completely different in January,’” they said.

Another bidder told Tes that the “timings weren’t ideal”. “The problem is [the DfE’s] timescales just don’t align with school timescales,” they said.

The bidders were asked by the DfE to budget to deliver their proposals over a much shorter time period than they had originally planned. They questioned the effectiveness of this approach, with one of the bidders suggesting it could be a “prelude” to the department reducing its funding for the programme.

While the bidders Tes spoke to had reservations about the DfE’s handling of the curriculum fund, they remained strongly supportive of the idea and said the civil servants they had been dealing with had been sympathetic to their concerns.  

A DfE spokeswoman said: “There are no plans to reduce the budget for the pilots. We are negotiating later start dates for some projects that have made clear that they cannot start delivery from January.

“We are engaging with a number of schools that submitted applications and the successful schools will be announced soon.”

 

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