Impact of the Bell Report: Spring-Clean for Education Policy

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Impact of the Bell Report: Spring-Clean for Education Policy

Published last month, the Bell Review represents less of a sea-change than a spring-clean for the DfE and ESFA. In addition to an assessment of the governance and accountability structures, the report also questioned the rationale behind and efficacy of the distribution of responsibilities between the two departments. Explicitly for the ESFA however, the review represented a top to bottom review of its ‘form, function and delivery model’.

6 months in the making, the review listed the expected list of big-ticket names as those consulted, including Baroness Barran, Dame Rachel de Souza, Amanda Spielman and Ofqual’s Jo Saxton to name a few. In addition to this, there was also a panoply of system leaders from across the education sector including LA and Academy leaders such as United Learning’s Jon Coles

Driven partly by the impact of policy movements such as the Skills and Post 16 Education Bill and the flagship Skills for Jobs White Paper, the shake-up in the DfE and thus ESFA is also in part due to the evolution of the school’s system and the simplification of funding allocation through the NFF. Cutting through the complexity

Though the arm’s-length body already manages £62 billion of public spending, a further £8 billion of funding will be transferred from an aggregate of teams across the DfE. This sizable percentage of the annual expenditure represents various grants, the transference processes for which will admittedly be a ‘Complex and Gradual Process’. In the medium term, however, the review recommends the DfE ‘leverage ESFA’s expertise’ to improve the management process.  

Even though the ESFA is shedding many of the functions and responsibilities deemed to be a distraction from its principal function as a funding agency, there is recognition for the skillets and processes which the body has developed. Much of the great user experience and customer-focused best practice which has been honed in the ESFA could see application across a range of DfE services.

Where larger areas of change were recommended in the review, they were often caveated with the need for sensitivity and a moderated approach. Though we can expect more transparency, perhaps better usability of services and less bureaucracy, the real changes perhaps won’t be felt by schools for a considerable duration. 

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