Call for ‘heads to roll’ amid SFA software delays

College and training provider data staff have demanded action after struggling to submit accurate data because of problems with Skills Funding Agency software.

An FE Week survey on Thursday, November 7 — the day after the deadline to submit the return, known as R03 — found that just five providers out of 159 (three per cent) said they had a reliable funding report from the new funding information system (Fis) software.

Delays in supplying Fis meant providers were left with just eight working days to install it and remedy any errors in the return, and led to a call in a previous FE Week survey from four out of five data officers to abandon the data return completely.

Responding anonymously to the latest survey, data management staff called for the agency to take responsibility.

A data integrity officer at a large college said: “Heads should roll. We are going to be a third of the way into the year without any idea of what we have or might earn.”

A data and audit manager, also from a large college, said: “It is a nightmare. They wouldn’t accept this level of incompetence from us, so why should we have to accept it from them?”

Many providers are still struggling to install the software while others have reported glitches in the program once it is running.

An MIS manager at a small independent training provider said: “The whole R03 was a farce from start to finish. I cannot yet get Fis to work properly.

“Putting not fit for purpose software into the public domain is ludicrous and then expecting people to submit data was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

A data analyst at one large college said: “We’ve had six people doing two Saturdays of overtime and we still can’t get a reliable picture of funding from the Fis.”

A learner systems manager at a local authority said: “They should pay all providers a compensation payment to cover all the additional work that providers have needed to do to cover the SFA’s failure to provide the system required.”

Of the total responses to the latest FE Week survey, which was posted on the information authority Feconnect forum as well as the CMIS-Network — a Jiscmail email discussion group, 83 providers said they had 1,000 or more errors, of which 11 had more than 10,000 and three had more than 20,000.

A total of 134 (84 per cent) said they had successfully submitted R03 data by the 6pm deadline on Wednesday, November 6, but more than half (81) said the data they submitted contained errors.

Just five providers out of 159 (three per cent) said they had a reliable funding report from the Fis software, with 124 (78 per cent) saying their report was unreliable and the remaining 30 (19 per cent) saying they did not know whether or not their data was reliable.

Fis is part of a wider agency data collections and funding transformation programme, which has been developed to comply with the Cabinet Office’s new digital strategy, which includes using a range of both large and small software development companies.

Another element of the software upgrade which has still not been released is the Learning Aims Reference System (Lars) — an online tool which enables providers to, among other things, look up qualification funding values.

The agency said it would release a simpler, desktop version of Lars before the end of the month, and in time for the next data return deadline (R04) on December 5.

An agency statement said: “We have decided to publish Lars Lite as we will be unable to publish a fully functioning Lars search capability on The Hub in time to support R04.

“We still intend to implement the Lars service and will publish a revised delivery plan in due course.”