DfE suspends process for defunding qualifications with low enrolments

The Department for Education has suspended the process for defunding thousands of legacy qualifications at level three and below with low enrolments amid the coronavirus crisis.

But for qualifications with no enrolments, officials will continue with that process under an “expanded timeframe”.

A consultation on plans to remove funding for more than 5,000 qualifications at level three and below was launched by the government in February.

Those at risk are courses that are currently not being studied by any learners or have cohorts of fewer than 100, and are coming to the end of their three-year operation.

The plan was to stop their funding by August 2021, and the deadline for organisations to submit appeals for keeping individual qualifications under review was 27 March.

But following a plea to delay the process from the Federation of Awarding Bodies owing to colleges and other education settings being ordered to close, Education and Skills Funding Agency chief executive Eileen Milner has agreed to alter the arrangements.

“Recognising the rapidly changing nature of the current situation, and taking account of recent announcements, we are proposing to run the no enrolment process only this year, offering, on top of the four week extension for evidence you suggested, a further window to submit evidence during September,” she told FAB boss Tom Bewick in an email, seen by FE Week, today.

“We will not run the low enrolment process this year, but re-launch that in the autumn, as part of the second cycle of review of funding approval decisions, with qualifications in scope potentially having funding approval withdrawn from August 2022.”

An email outlining the changes will be sent to all awarding organisations today.

It will inform them that the deadline to submit the “relevant accompanying evidence” for qualifications with no enrolments is now extended to 30 April 2020.

“Qualifications with low enrolments which are included on the published list will retain funding approvals for 2021 to 2022,” it will add.

“These qualifications will be in scope to have funding approval removed from August 2022.”

Exact timescales for the revised arrangements will be revealed “in the autumn”.

Bewick said his federation was “pleased that the ESFA is responding so flexibly to our members at this incredibly challenging time”.

“These postponements will free up some of the time of awarding body staff to focus on the immediate crisis of dealing with Covid-19, including ensuring that various assessments continue for apprentices and vocational technical qualification students.”