ESFA switches from intervention to prevention

The Education and Skills Funding Agency is switching its strategy from intervention to prevention, ahead of the introduction of the FE insolvency regime later this year.

The change has been revealed in series of job adverts for members of a new provider market oversight team at the agency, out today.

“The prevention strategy seeks to improve on the intervention model by identifying and preventing problems before they occur,” the adverts said.

Benefits of the new strategy include “the larger range of options available the earlier a problem is identified and the lower cost to the taxpayer, which is particularly important given the forthcoming FE insolvency regime”.

The insolvency regime, introduced as part of the Technical and Further Education Act in 2017, is expected to take effect towards the end of this year.

It will mean colleges will be allowed to go bust, although the government has said it expects this to only happen in rare occasions where a college is in “severe financial difficulties and there is no alternative viable solution for managing the college out of that situation”.

At the same time, exceptional financial support payments from the ESFA to colleges in dire financial straits will be phased out.

The ESFA’s current strategy focuses on intervening at providers where it has “evidence of under-performance”.

Triggers for the agency to take action include a provider receiving overall grade four rating from Ofsted, falling below national minimum standards, or being rated ‘inadequate’ for financial health or control.

It also has an early intervention approach, through which it supports colleges at risk of triggering formal intervention.

That approach is intended to work alongside the FE commissioner’s expanded role, which now includes more work with colleges at risk of failing, through measures such as diagnostic assessments and the strategic college improvement fund.

The provider market oversight team was formed on April 1 through the merger of two separate teams, the provider risk and assurance team and the transaction unit, according to published minutes of an ESFA management board meeting on March 29.

It’s led by Matthew Atkinson, who was formerly in charge of the transaction unit, and is described in the job adverts as having 120 members of staff.

The transaction unit handles applications to the restructuring facility, which is funding available for colleges to implement post-area review changes.

Roles being advertised in the new team include deputy director, delivery manager – restructuring facility post completion and monitoring and restructuring specialist.