Wait for quals cut list set to continue

Awarding bodies are facing another month’s wait to find out if their qualifications have been saved from a public funding cut after Skills Minister Matthew Hancock stepped in to ensure “niche high value qualifications are not dismissed”.

Awarding bodies were invited to make cases for their qualifications to be struck from a list of qualifications that, from August, would no longer be paid for by the taxpayer.

The revised catalogue was due to be published on February 28.

But it is understood that Mr Hancock has taken a personal interest in the process of deciding on exemptions, leading to a delay.

A spokesperson for both the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said: “We want to be certain that there is a robust working process in place before we share the outcomes with the sector.
“This is running within acceptable timeframes and we will communicate the progress of the exception submissions directly with the awarding organisations concerned shortly.

“We are currently running an independent exceptions process for awarding organisations to submit qualifications for funding for 2014/15 and BIS is keen to have an oversight of the process to ensure that niche high value qualifications are not dismissed.”

The minister’s hands-on approach has meant the release date for the revised catalogue has been put back to April 2. It has led to frustration within the sector.

A spokesperson for NCFE (formerly the Northern Council for Further Education) said: “We had heard that the updated 2014/15 catalogue might not be out until April 2 and were frustrated by news of this delay.

“Ultimately we have a commitment to our customers and their learners and with this in mind, we are eager to keep them informed about which qualifications have been approved for funding for the 2014/15 session.

“However, there have now been signs that the SFA is getting information out ahead of the revised timescale and we welcome this news.

“It helps us to know this information in a timely manner so that we can in turn, help our customers plan ahead and gain access to fundable qualifications which promote achievement, success and progression.”

A spokesperson for City & Guilds said: “We did not submit any exceptions on February 6.

“Nevertheless we are aware of the delays and while it is not an ideal situation, we understand this is part of the broader reviews going on around funding for vocational qualifications.

“In the meantime, City & Guilds will continue to work with all relevant parties involved.”

It comes after the SFA published documents containing its funding rules, formula and rates, which did not show any major changes since last year.

Stewart Segal (pictured), from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: “Funding rates have not increased for some years and providers who are faced with on-going cost inflation have had to deliver more for less.
“With the budget reductions for the next two years, this is a particularly challenging environment.

“Providers need the maximum flexibility in terms of the way budgets are managed so that they can continue to respond to employer and learner needs. As budgets have reduced we have also seen more and more restrictions on budgets and programmes. This will inevitably affect all providers and restrict the engagement of some learners and employers.”