college

Colleges that deliver less than 90 per cent of their national adult education budget allocation this year face having their unspent funds clawed back, the Education and Skills Funding Agency announced today.

The agency said this new threshold, much higher than the 68 per cent set for last year, is a “fair representation of grant-funded providers’ average delivery” in 2020/21.

The policy means that only colleges with funding for AEB, 19 to 24 traineeships, and advanced learner loans bursary which hit 90 per cent of their allocations will be able to keep 100 per cent of the money.

Initial reaction from Association of College’s deputy chief executive Julian Gravatt was that “tens of millions of pounds are at risk,” as the ESFA AEB is worth around £450 million to colleges.

Gravatt told FE Week the tolerance is “not much” and would leave colleges “scrambling for enrolments or savings”.

He added: “We’re asking DFE for more information on the estimates that informed the decision and for a reconsideration of the level to avoid pressure on colleges to cut back just when the country needs them to do more.”

Head of policy for adult education network HOLEX Sue Pember called it “very disappointing and doesn’t cover any of the added costs of Covid-safe delivery or the extra support that students needed.

“Decision needs to be reviewed or a support fund created to cover the added costs of delivery. There may be fewer students but they needed more support,” she continued.

In a typical year, colleges are allowed to keep 100 per cent of the national adult education budget funding if they achieve a threshold of at least 97 per cent of their allocation.

Last year this was lowered to 68 per cent owing to the impact of Covid-19, and with national lockdowns continuing, many in the sector thought a similar threshold would be implemented this year.

Situation still ‘difficult’ for colleges

Announcing the new threshold today, the ESFA said: “We acknowledge the situation is still difficult for providers, but our latest data shows that a threshold of 90 per cent is a fair representation of grant funded providers’ average delivery.

“We also know that many grant funded providers have been able to continue remote delivery very successfully during lockdown, having built on the experience of 2019 to 2020 to establish effective contingency arrangements to manage Covid-19 restrictions.”

“Our primary aim is to support providers to continue to deliver as much quality provision as possible, whether that is face-to-face, online, or otherwise remotely,” the update continued.

The agency said it would publish further details for colleges with any questions by the end of March.

And AEB funding rules for the 2020 to 2021 academic year will be updated in April to include this change.

The announcement today only applies to the national AEB administered by the ESFA, not devolved mayoral combined authorities which decide their own funding rules.

One in five colleges were allowed to keep close to one-third of their allocated adult education budget despite failing to deliver any courses for the funding last year, as previously revealed by FE Week.

The threshold only applies to colleges, not independent training providers which will continue to be paid only for what they deliver.