The Gazelle Foundation has been awarded a £1m learning technology contract from the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) amid concerns about a lack of evidence surrounding its effectiveness. David Russell acknowledges such scepticism as he defends the award.

The ETF has announced the latest of our contract awards and the biggest among them was a £1m contract to support the education and training sector in realising the potential of learning technology.

This is a vital agenda, and a role I am delighted that we have been asked by Government to take on following its recent response to the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (Feltag) report.

But first let me address one possible concern head on.

I read the papers. I know there is scepticism in some quarters about Gazelle, who will lead the consortium on this delivery work for us.

I understand some teachers and lecturers have asked pointed questions about whether Gazelle delivers on its promises, and about whether it always acts in the interests of learners.

It is right to ask questions, to scrutinise, and to expect evidence of impact. I expect that too.

Whatever we may say about the autonomy of institutions in our sector, it is public money which pays for most of our activity, the ETF and providers alike. Public money must deliver public value; this is a non-negotiable for me.

We had four bids for our learning technologies contract. It is not normal commercial practice to disclose the number of bidders, but in this case I believe there is an overcompensating public interest in disclosure, to show that we made a positive choice when awarding this work.

The two strongest bidders were very close, with different strengths. But in the end our process produced a clear front-runner, which was the Gazelle-led consortium.

They won the contract because their bid was convincing in the depth of knowledge and understanding it displayed; dynamic and innovative; pedagogy-focused not technology-focused; and above all with learner benefit at its heart.

This programme will provide support across the education and training sector, including colleges, private training providers and others (it is not aimed at any particular group of providers).

Gazelle will be assisted by its consortium partners: the Association of Colleges, Association of Employment and Learning Providers, 157 Group, and the National Foundation for Educational Research, together with a wider steering group that they are convening to oversee the programme.

More generally, I recognise there will be scepticism in some quarters from time to time about some of our awards going to ‘usual suspects’ around the sector.

But it would be quite wrong to let those ‘noises off’ affect an impartial and objective process of contract awarding.

My board and I are very clear: the ETF is an outcomes-focused organisation in everything we do.

Our contracting model is set up to support that.

All our contractors are 100 per cent clear that they must demonstrate impact for learners (and employers where appropriate) throughout the work.

Any contractor that cannot deliver on the promise of its plans will see swift remedial action taken, the ultimate of which is contract termination. No contractor is too big to fail.

Learning technology is evolving rapidly and its potential is huge.

The biggest inhibitor to its success is lack of workforce capacity to exploit it.

The ETF is focusing energetically on helping the whole workforce — including leaders — to recognise and utilise the power of learning technology.

That is what our contract is designed to do, and that is what we will deliver through it, whoever happens to be our successful contractor of the day.