The government has spent more than £22 million producing the Framework for Excellence and FE Choices websites.
A letter sent by skills minister John Hayes to Lynne Featherstone MP, says that more than £20 million was spent on “the development and operation” of the Framework for Excellence site – which allows the public to compare the performance of providers – between 2007 and the end of last year.
But key figures in FE are disappointed with the numbers visiting FE Choices, the successor to Framework for Excellence. A freedom of information request reveals only 6,230 people had viewed the site since its launch in January.
Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges (AoC), told FE Week: “FE Choices has been a costly development. Unfortunately, having reached a point where it was ready to go live there was no marketing budget to inform either individuals or employers.
“While we support the concept of transparent services for young people and adults, who are able to make informed choices on where to study, we know that they can’t take make these decisions if they don’t know where to find the information. The site is no good if no one knows that it is there.”
In his letter to Ms Featherstone, Mr Hayes wrote that the bulk of the spend on Framework for Excellence was on defining the indicators, establishing methods of collection and developing and testing the website.
He also revealed that last year there were 15,222 visits to the site.
Mr Hayes said: “All new things take time to embed and reach their full potential, but I am sure you will agree that it is important for the government to take steps to increase openness and transparency in public services.”
A spokesperson for the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) told FE Week that the Framework for Excellence site “was a success” and “worth the investment”.
“It was the first time that a website such as this had been established, and information of this kind gathered and published for public consumption to assist the sector in its own quality assurance, and provide a basis for colleges and providers to evaluate and improve their activities,” the spokesperson said.
It is disappointing that the FE Choices website is not used widely but it is perhaps not very surprising given the lack of marketing.”
Framework for Excellence was relaunched in January as FE Choices.
The response from the SFA to a freedom of information request showed that the new website has cost the taxpayer £2.3 million to date.
Joy Mercer said that it had cost a lot of money to gather the same information from schools and HE institutions.
“The costs of such exercises must be looked at in the round, which means including information about how it is used and whether it proves to be value for money in driving up quality,” she said.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) told FE Week that it had always been a challenge to provide learners with “accessible, relevant, consistent and comprehensive information”.
The FE Choices website holds success rates data for each provider, as well as two scores based on whether learners progressed to a new course or job. It also holds data that shows how satisfied learners and employers were with providers in 2010/11.
David Hughes, chief executive of NIACE, said: “It is disappointing that the FE Choices website is not used widely but it is perhaps not very surprising given the lack of marketing.
“We would like to ensure that adults know about this information as well as the new Careers Service. Both can help them to make better choices about the learning they want