Mixed reaction to new requirement for learner outcome data in individual learner records

Sector leaders gave a mixed welcome to new requirements for providers to collect data on what happens to learners after they finish courses.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has published a second version of its guide to data collection requirements for individual learner records (ILR) for 2014/15.

It includes a new requirement to complete five new learner outcome fields — including the outcome start date (for example, when learners get a job after completing a course).

The other fields are outcome type (for example, whether the former learner is in paid employment or back in education) , outcome code (more detail on the type of learner outcome being recorded), outcome end date (the date that the former student finished a learner outcome such as a new job, if applicable), and outcome collection date (when the outcome data was collected from the learner).

The ILR specification says these new fields will be mandatory (unlike the current destination field) but only for certain learners — for example those taking traineeships, students funded by the adult skills budget and learners who were unemployed prior to enrolment.

It will be the first time information about a learner’s enrolment can be recorded in a future year’s ILR file.

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, was in favour of tracking learner outcomes.

He said: “It will prove what providers have been doing has worked, with different courses leading to jobs. It will also help providers maintain better links with both learners and providers.”

The recently-released Skills Funding Statement (SFS) made several references to linking learner outcomes to funding.

It said the government had been working on three “core” measures that could determine funding — destination (into further learning or “into/within” employment), progression (through learning) and earnings changes (following completion of learning).

Stephen Hewitt, Morley College’s strategic funding, enrolments and examinations manager, said: “I definitely don’t think learner outcomes will be taken into account for provider funding for 2014/15, as we have already been given the funding rules for that period.

“It’s more likely they will have to take a look at the figures over a couple of years to see how learner outcomes could affect funding. If they changed the rules without taking this into account, some providers could be left with huge cuts in funding without being able to plan for this.”

Joy Mercer, director of policy for the Association of Colleges, said: “To hold learning providers responsible for job outcomes is unfair when some colleges are operating in very difficult areas with high unemployment.

“However, to collect a broader set of statistics on what happens to students after a course of study is of enormous interest both to the government and the colleges themselves.”

Lynne Sedgmore, chief executive of the 157 Group, said: “It is a step towards developing a more mature approach to accountability. How the data is used will be a question for the future, once we are sure it is complete, accurate and robust.”

Paul Warner, director of employment and skills for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “In principle AELP has always been supportive about the introduction of destination data collection.

“However, providers, particularly ones without large resources, will need time to get up to speed on tracking all learners.”

The only funding linked to learner destination at the moment is the Skills Funding Agency’s job outcome payment, offering a compensation payment that can only be paid to providers when learners either fail their qualifications or walk away early — providing they’ve won employment.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said in February it planned to launch a consultation on “outcome-based measures of performance for all post-19 FE and skills”.

But this has not yet been launched and a BIS spokesman said there will be “an update in the summer” on when it will happen.

BIS declined to comment on how learner outcome data collected from individual learner records could be used in future funding calculations.

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