Funding audits to restart this month for private providers – but not colleges

New routine funding audits will restart on a remote basis for independent training providers from this month – but colleges will continue to have theirs put on hold until November, the government has announced.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency will also carry out a “risk assessment on restarting site visits” for audits and investigations, so that officials have the “ability to do so, should we need to”.

The agency had paused all audits, including those that had already started, in March owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus guidance for training providers and colleges was updated yesterday and said that where funding audits and investigations were already in progress prior to the lockdown, the ESFA has now “sought to complete the work, taking into account training providers’ capacity to resolve any issues”.

The agency’s guidance did not provide a reason for the discrepancy between college and private provider restart dates but FE Week understands it is because the agency does not want to overburden colleges as they begin their full reopening this month.

The ESFA stated in its guidance that they “recognise the challenges” training providers face as a result of coronavirus and will be “sensitive to these in agreeing arrangements for both remote funding audits and site visits with providers” going forward.

“It may be necessary for the ESFA to contact training providers during the coronavirus outbreak in order to continue to maintain effective oversight and protection of public funds,” the guidance continued.

“Where such contact is necessary, we will continue to be sensitive to the challenges training providers face as a result of coronavirus.”

Higher education institutions funded by the ESFA are currently not in scope for audit restarts, but these are due to resume next year.

Other parts of the post-16 regulatory system, such as initial Ofsted visits, are also set to restart this month following a pause due to Covid-19.

The Ofsted visits will not be full inspections, but will “look at how effectively leaders are enabling provision to resume fully following an extended break in formal education, including considering remote education and safeguarding”. They will result in a published letter but no grade.

Full education inspections are due to restart in January 2021.

FE Commissioner activity in colleges resumed in July.