Failed Skills Funding Agency research tender ‘ridiculous’

A 33-day timescale for research into a new payments regime for adult learning has been branded “ridiculous” by an FE consultant.

Fourteen contractors were invited to bid for the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) project , but not one went for it.

Ian Nash, a member of The Policy Consortium, said the timescale was “inadequate. The people who set these deadlines ought to try to do what they ask.”

The agency has now revealed that after “helpful feedback”, the job would be put back out to tender with “revised” specifications and a new deadline of December.

The timeframe was ridiculous. Has anyone in SFA tried to get hold of people for interview in 33 days?”

“Following the recent tender exercise and the helpful feedback received from two of the 14 providers within the framework for contractors in category two – economic and econometric forecasting analysis – we are reviewing the tender specification,” said an agency spokesperson.

“We plan to issue a revised specification with a completion deadline of December.”

The initial tender for research into a single rate for English and maths called for at least 70 interviews.

Industry insiders, including college heads and teachers and stakeholder organisations, were to be quizzed and the report was to include conclusions and recommendations.

Mr Nash said: “We have been in contact with organisations that would have considered bidding. The reasons they did not is clear.

“First, the timeframe was ridiculous. Has anyone in SFA tried to get hold of people for interview in 33 days?

“That sounds a long time, but in practice, as such organisations repeatedly tell us, it’s inadequate to set up and carry out interviews from cold, especially where senior managers are concerned. Their diaries are usually committed far in advance.

“Second, employers, teachers and managers are busy; they are not sitting around
waiting to be interviewed.

“And third, they tell us that when they do get the time, other more important things get in their way – like running their business and teaching their students.

“Moreover, to try to achieve this at the beginning of an academic year when staff are frantically appraising, enrolling and inducting learners suggests these people have much to learn about in the world of education and training.”

He said there was also scepticism that “too much of such work related to ministerial whims and departmental world views, rather than finding real evidence”.

The move to commission the report came three months after the agency announced the changed payment rate following an investigation with the Funding External Technical Advisory Group.

It said that English and maths would be funded at a base rate of £336, with a 1.3 weighting factor boosting that to £437 for entry level maths.

However, an agency spokesperson said at the time that their published figures could be “revisited,” after concerns about the data used for its calculations.

Paul Warner, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said: “Timelines are now very tight and the agency can’t afford to hang around.

“Therefore AELP and our members are very willing to work with the agency to compile the required information.”

He added: “Despite the lack of interest in the tender, we felt it was right for the agency to commission this research because it is our understanding that previous cost calculations were based on a limited cohort that was centred on classroom delivery.

“A better assessment of the true costs in a work-based learning environment is needed to avoid training providers taking a major hit on rectifying the failings of 11 years of statutory schooling in a short period.”