After extended delays and ultimately an aborted first attempted at a tender for funding apprenticeships with small employers (non-levy), the second attempt by the Education and Skills Funding Agency has been ‘postponed’.

This evening the ESFA told providers more time was needed to evaluate a ‘high volume’ of applications and was unable to say when the results of the £650m tender round would be known.

The full message sent tonight via the tendering website reads: “The Agency has been pleased to receive a high volume of tenders following a very positive response to the Invitation to Tender for this procurement, and is currently finalising the evaluation process.

“In accordance with paragraph 8.2 of the Invitation to Tender (Attachment 1), the Agency is making a change to the procurement timetable as set out in paragraph 8.1 (Attachment 1). The intention to issue award notifications to successful and unsuccessful Potential Providers is postponed, and will not now be issued on 21 November 2017.

“Potential Providers will be contacted again shortly with further information on the new date for the issue of award notifications.”

The postponement will be frustrating but may not come as a surprise, as tender process was controversial for it’s timing, complexity and volume of information required that led to providers submitting nearly 1,000 official clarification requests.

On hearing of the postponement, Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers told FE Week: “It’s disappointing, but no longer a surprise,  yet another deadline has been missed and our members have not even been given the courtesy of an actual future date.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that as this remains a live procurement they are not able to comment further.