The findings in the Tenon report feel a little unsubstantiated in places. However, what the FE sector should be worried about is the underlying message and detailed data manipulation methods.

Changing the ends dates of courses retrospectively, removing overseas or work-based learners from their ILR return and using transfer codes to remove students from specific lines of data are not ‘mistakes’. They’re a blatant disregard for the rules.

In all of this Tenon Education Training and Skills Limited has been awfully quiet. The report has a lot to say, and yet the organisation has refused to comment on it publicly.

Similarly the report, described as being “strictly confidential”, is yet to be published or made available on the internet. It all feels rather hush-hush.

So why are Tenon not willing to back the report? Do they know their evidence is insufficient? Or is it because they don’t want to cause too much of a furore, thereby jeopardising their relationship with potential clients? We may never know.

The Tenon Education Training and Skills College Forum is a peculiar beast as well. The report suggests the group, designed to give “a voice” to member colleges in responese to government announcements, was created directly from the issues concerning success rates.

“Many college Principals feel cheated on how a number of other colleges had achieved their continuous improvement in success rates and the results published by the LSC and Ofsted confirmed what many had suspected for a long time, that there were others within the Sector who did not honestly represent success rates,” the report reads.

Shrouded in mystery, the purpose of the forum seems to sit somewhere between the Freemasons and an outspoken think tank.

This is exemplified by the ‘entry criteria’ needed to register. What on earth are they judging these colleges on? Is there some kind of initiation process for each principal? It’s like something out of a Dan Brown novel.

What’s more frightening is how blase the government appears to be about the issue. Presumably because it deals with data, they’re assured parents and the wider public won’t find out or care about it. Or, which would be far worse, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) are just blissfully unaware that it’s even happening.

“The Skills Funding Agency is assured that data manipulation is not widespread in the sector,” an SFA spokesperson said.
“Since 2009 we have only uncovered one case of data manipulation. This was uncovered through audit and appropriate steps were taken.”

The survey by Lsect seems to corroborate the findings in the Tenon report. Whatever your thoughts are on how ‘widespread’ data manipulation is, multiple sources have confirmed that it’s happening. That’s significant, and it’s about time the FE sector did something about it.

Auditors need to up their game. If colleges are found to bending the rules, they should be named and shamed. No exceptions. If needs be, data returns should be published online with all known tricks highlighted and condemned. Over the top? Perhaps.

But if it makes senior management and MIS teams embarrassed enough to change their ways, it’ll be worth it.

For those who are playing by the rules, my thanks. FE Week Agitator is pleased to hear that some colleges are prepared to be credible and face the consequences of changing success rates – both good and bad. It’s the only way we’ll start reversing this shameful trend.

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