The Department for Education (DfE) is responsible for education and children’s services in England. They are responsible for:
teaching and learning for children in the early years and in primary schools
teaching and learning for young people under the age of 19 years in secondary schools and in further education
supporting professionals who work with children and young people
helping disadvantaged children and young people to achieve more
making sure that local services protect and support children
The DfE is a ministerial department with three executive agencies:
Education Funding Agency (EFA)
Standards and Testing Agency (STA)
National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCT)
With over 3000 staff based across their ministerial offices in London, Coventry, Darlington, Manchester Nottingham and Sheffield we work closely with national and local agencies that look after children, with local authorities, and with the professionals who work in schools, children’s services and health services.
In October 2012, the DfE completed a review that sought to answer some fundamental questions from a zero base about the size, shape and role of central government in the education and children’s sectors. This included determining the number and location of sites that was most appropriate for the future DfE, balancing the savings generated by reducing the number of sites with making sure that they still provided efficient, fit for purpose accommodation that met the requirements of the business. One conclusion of the review was that we would close six sites i.e. reduce the estate by half.
Our former home in Darlington, Mowden Hall, was in a poor state of repair and required significant investment to tackle the building’s defects and facilities. We estimated that on top of the £1m for regular maintenance we spent each year (which would have risen further), it would cost in the region of circa £10m to bring it up to modern specifications. As well as the cost, refurbishment would also necessitate significant disruption to the business. We therefore took the decision to leave the Mowden Hall site and to explore the options of relocating to another site in the North East, either Darlington or Newcastle.
A search across the North East was carried out and more than 50 buildings in a range of locations were considered, before choosing to lease, from Darlington Borough Council (DBC), Bishopsgate House. The factors that drove the decision were cost, space and location. The building represents value for money compared to other offers we considered. Furthermore, the agreement to share services and space (security, reception, meeting rooms and catering – providing both organisations with a greater range of facilities) would save even more money for both parties.
The space needed to meet the number of staff we had to accommodate using modern working practices like desk sharing and the location needed to minimise the impact on the workforce (e.g. close proximity to public transport) to incentivise staff to stay working for the department. The location was also central to ensure there was minimal disruption to the business.
The DfE Board (its executive and its ministers) were also attracted to the potential for creating a new sort of relationship with DBC and the formation of a ’Darlington Public Sector Hub’ because of the co-location and sharing of space between the organisations. As far as we know this is a unique collaboration between local and central government.