ESFA hiring team to focus on audit and intervention at private training providers

The Education and Skills Funding Agency is to focus on intervention and prevention in independent training providers following a number of high profile failures, as it continues to beef up its audit team.

Its latest recruitment drive for its “market oversight” unit includes six advertised roles, who will try to identify financial problems at ITPs before they occur and “respond swiftly to provider failure to ensure learner and employer interests are protected and new, high quality provision is identified”.

The new jobs include an assurance manager, senior assurance officer, assistance assurance officer, and a graduate assistance assurance officer.

“We welcome these steps as part of a two-way dialogue in terms of understanding how policy changes can possibly destabilise the ITP market

Also being recruited is a post-16 senior interventions support officer and a post-16 financial intervention support manager.

All adverts, posted on the civil service jobs website, state that they will have a specific focus on independent training providers.

The extra agency resource comes after a series of significant failures, requiring the transfer of thousands of apprentices to new employers and providers.

In March 2017, First4Skills, one of the largest apprenticeship providers in England, called in the administrators after the ESFA terminated their contract following an Ofsted grade four inspection report. As many as 6,500 apprentices were affected.

Then in August later that year the nation’s largest FE provider Learndirect was also suddenly hit with an Ofsted grade four. It had around 80,000 learners at the time of inspection and the ESFA delayed cancelling its skills contracts in an effort to avoid transferring many of the students before finishing their courses.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, welcomed the new assurance and intervention teams.

“While AELP believes that the current ESFA audit process has generally worked well for a sector that has over 1,000 providers, we have been saying to the agency for some time that the intervention process should be reviewed and improved,” he told FE Week.

“We therefore welcome these steps as part of a two-way dialogue in terms of understanding how policy changes can possibly destabilise the ITP market and at the same time achieve a positive impact from any interventions that the agency feels necessary to make.”

FE Week reported in May that the rapid increase in the number of training providers has forced an expansion of the ESFA’s audit team.

Mark Dawe

All personnel in the new assurance and intervention teams will operate directly under the leadership of Matt Atkinson, the ESFA’s director of provider market oversight – a unit which now has around 120 employees.

A key responsibility of the manager who will lead the assurance team will be to “oversee, develop and manage a programme of assurance monitoring visits that targets specific risk issues and complement existing assurance activities”.

“The programme will be suitably flexible to target emerging issues and respond on a timely basis, with an emphasis on Independent Training Providers,” the job advert adds.

The successful candidate will be “responsible for ensuring appropriate quality assurance and continuous improvement procedures are in place to enable the assurance work to be delivered to the high quality standards expected”.

They must also carry out “horizon-scanning, anticipating the impact of emerging policy and sector changes, as well as technological opportunities, acting as a champion for associated business transformation”.

The post-16 financial intervention support manager must act as a “national link” between the provider market oversight unit and the ESFA intervention team “on all things relating to intervention with ITPs”.

They must “attend meetings at ITPs, providing challenge and advice on the financial position of institutions as required”.