ESFA move to short notice funding audits in dodgy data crackdown

Colleges and training providers will now be given as little as two weeks notice of a financial assurance audit and only three days to present sample files, the ESFA has warned.

A letter from the agency, titled ‘ESFA Funding Assurance’ visits, says it plans to give providers as little as two weeks’ notice of an assurance review visit, which can take place any time of year, whereas previously providers were notified in June or July if they were to be visited in September.

And where before, providers had between five and ten days to prepare a selected sample of individual learner files, the ESFA will now give them between three and five days.

FE Week also understands that while the auditing only used to cover last year’s data and clawback from last year, this has been extended to include data from three years’ previously.

Elements of this new regime chime with the controversial mystery audits the ESFA carried out a number of providers earlier this year, where hundreds of documents from as far back as 2015/16 had to be handed over within two days.

This tightening of deadlines for providers is part of a crackdown by the ESFA on record-keeping by FE institutions.

3aaa, one of the country’s biggest apprenticeship providers, went bust in October after it was alleged employees had manipulated data to artificially inflate achievement rates by a huge amount.

In March, the principal of Dudley College, Lowell Williams, apologised after it was found the college had been late in recording the withdrawal of numerous apprentices, which also inflated the achievement rate.

An ESFA investigation also found some learners’ end dates were inaccurate.

The ESFA audit team has also been beefed up this year.

As reported by FE Week, in May, it launched a recruitment drive for a “newly created market oversight unit”, including an advert for four auditor vacancies posted on the civil service jobs website.