Full-time learner concerns lead to EFA review on planned hours

Fears that a new planned hours system of funding 16 to 19 study programmes was being misused have prompted a review by the Education Funding Agency.

It is understood that the agency was alerted to possible problems after greater proportions of learners were registered as being in full-time study than were previously seen under the old funding system. It now pays per learner, rather than by qualification, as recommended in Professor Alison Wolf’s 2011 review of vocational education.

And for learners to qualify as full-time under the new system providers must record them with at least 540 planned hours, but it is understood that learners who would previously have been funded as part-time were now being funded as full-time.

The agency, FE Week understands, is concerned that providers were either not delivering the full 540 hours or, where delivered they were condensed into periods of as little as four months. However, it announced on Thursday (June 19) that it would be conducting a review this summer to ensure all data and funding claims were valid.

An agency spokesperson said: “The agency will ask institutions that have had the most significant increase in full time programmes to complete a straightforward return highlighting the main reasons for the increase. Institutions selected for funding audit,  that have had an increase in full time programmes, will also be asked to complete this return.”

In order for planned hours to qualify for funding, the activity done in that time must contribute towards a coherent study programme for the student, be timetabled, organised or supervised by the provider and be within the provider’s normal working pattern.

The spokesperson added: “All institutions should ensure that planned hours recorded for the 2013 to 2014 academic year meet these criteria. EFA will continue to monitor the returns it receives to decide if further audit work is necessary.”

The chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, Stewart Segal, said: “We were expecting a review on the impact of study programmes at some stage and we would welcome input into it. AELP supports the flexibility of study programmes and hope that the review will reinforce that flexibility rather than create too rigid a definition of the learning activities.”

In her 2011 report, Dr Alison Wolf laid out her arguments for funding by student, rather than qualification. She said the move would “focus… management and staff attention on student programmes rather than the minutiae of individual qualifications’ fees” and “make it much easier for institutions to collaborate in offering different components of a programme”.