SFA to be investigated for alleged data ‘cover-up’
The government’s performance comparison site for further education is under heavy scrutiny after an investigation by FE Week into unannounced changes.
FE Choices, formerly known as the Framework for Excellence, was published by the Data Service, a part of the Skills Funding Agency, on January 26, but is now the focus of three inquiries.
FE Week found post publication alterations had been made to the Leaner Satisfaction performance indicator – an aid for stakeholders, such as prospective students, to work out how a provider compares with average data for the same provider type and to all organisations which are on FE Choices.
However, despite the changes to comparable data fields neither the Agency, nor the Service, made a public announcement, which could leave them in breach of the Code of Practice for Official Statistics by the UK Statistics Authority.
The Code requires that prompt public announcements are made on errors which are discovered in statistical reports.
A statement issued on Thursday said the Agency is taking the allegations “very seriously” and will investigate them in accordance with its Complaints Procedure, which will be undertaken by the Complaints Adjudicator.
It added: “The Agency cannot comment further until the investigation is complete.”
The statement also confirmed that Skills Minister John Hayes has “sought an investigation” into the matter, before adding: “This request will be met through the completion of our thorough complaint investigation.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said they are committed to transparency.
The spokesperson said: “Mr Hayes has asked that the Skills Funding Agency begins an investigation and reports back to BIS.
“The department is fully committed to ensuring that statistical information is transparent and fully compliant with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.”
A further inquiry is being conducted by the UK Statistics Authority after receiving “representations regarding the publication of statistics” on FE Choices.
A spokesperson for the Authority said: “The Authority has asked statisticians at the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills, as the parent department of the Skills Funding Agency, for a report.
“We will independently review that report and determine what, if any, further investigations or statements by the Authority may be required.”
The changes were brought to light when the Agency was presented with evidence on Tuesday.
Since then, the Agency has found that the amendments were made on January 30, but says all data on the site is now “accurate and correct”.
However, according to the data manager for FE Choices, who asked to remain anonymous, within a day of the data going live on January 26, it was found the figures were erroneous – with the changes made days later.
The data manager said this demonstrates “maladministration and disregard for the standards” and a lack of governance.
Speaking to FE Week, he said that the data should have been removed as soon as the error was found.
He said: “As soon as they knew there was an error they should have let stakeholders know. What they should have done is disabled the Learner Satisfaction pages.
“These pages should have been switched off, but they chose not to do that.”