FE comparison website leaves users ‘confused’

An independent review has branded the government’s £30m FE Choices website “bland” and “ambiguous”.

The site, which compares the performance of providers, was criticised by unions in June when it was discovered that only 6,230 people had looked at it since its launch six months earlier. The Taxpayer’s Alliance said the site was “pointless”.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) called in London-based consultants Bunnyfoot in March. Its  review said testers were left scratching their heads over figures that “didn’t add up” and confusing statistics about what learners went on to do after their courses.

It’s bland, it doesn’t look like it’s trying to appeal to younger people/students,”

“Participants displayed confusion when reading and analysing the data shown. Many said that it ‘didn’t add up’ and were unsure how percentages were arrived at,” said the report.

One site user told Bunnyfoot: “The percentages on their own don’t mean anything, there needs to be more.”

The consultancy firm recommended that more information on the figures was needed, such as whether a percentage was “very good”.

But the SFA said “judgmental text” would not be used. “There has been a long-standing policy decision, agreed by the sector, that the SFA will not give judgments (grades, comments, etc) on scores achieved by providers,” said a spokesperson.

Users similarly misinterpreted the site’s purpose. “Most expected to see information relating to courses as well as general provider information,” said the report.

The site’s appearance was also criticised. “It’s bland, it doesn’t look like it’s trying to appeal to younger people/students,” said one tester.

Bunnyfoot recommended more colour and graphs to show figures. The SFA said improvements would start early next year.

Overall, the consultancy firm said FE Choices was well received. “In terms of usability, participants were seen to navigate and interact with the site easily. The ability to search for this type of information and compare organisations was liked and said to be useful,” the report said.

It is understood that delegates at an Association of Colleges conference in September questioned the similarity of FE Choices and Ofsted’s Learner View website, which draws together the opinion of students to rate providers.

However, the SFA pointed to differences between the two sites. A spokesperson said: “The Ofsted website focuses on learner feedback and Ofsted inspections.

“The agency believes that the combined effect of this information and the agency’s FE Choices website will further strengthen the breadth of information available to help the consumer make better, more informed choices.”