The Association of Colleges (AoC) believes that the data quality of Individualised Learner Record (ILR) returns could be “degraded” by moving  the final return deadline forward three weeks.

Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive at the AoC, spoke out after the Information Authority’s (IA) board, with support from FE Minister Matthew Hancock, agreed a new deadline for ILR returns 2012/13 of the third week of October.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) argued that earlier data, used to ensure public money is spent in line with government targets, would help the FE sector in public spending negotiations.

But Mr Gravatt said that earlier return dates could “well result in degradation to the quality of the data collected, raise the cost of collection as more staff are required, and create confusion”.

He said that the “preferred option” was a phased introduction that would have been brought in toward 2015.

BIS’s initial consultation with providers in November on a proposed data deadline of September 27 — seven weeks earlier than the current deadline – angered the sector.

FE Week reported in December that just 2 per cent of providers supported a September deadline. Concerns among the 612 responses included “putting put pressure on staff” and “less rigorous and less robust data”.

Mr Gravatt said: “The consultation on the change carried out by the IA attracted a large number of responses, many of which voiced serious concern.

“If it has been decided centrally that this is needed, colleges will rise to the challenge,” he said. “This is yet another example of how the sector has to answer to changes and pressure brought in from the top down with little supportive evidence. The proposed change to the submission date for ILR data has been approved by ministers and now colleges must work within this new framework.”

The date for returns has been creeping forward for a number of years. Until 2006/07, providers had to send data by the last Monday in March. Even after this date a provider could send revised data if some of it was inaccurate or incomplete.

But the date then moved to the third or fourth week of November — with no returns accepted after the deadline.

An IA spokesperson said: “The board recognised there was a strong case to do this [to change the date] and whilst it felt a September deadline would be difficult for providers to meet, a final return date of the third week in October for 2013 (similar to the schools census deadline) would be possible if help was given to overcome obstacles — such as operational issues.”

The IA spokesperson said it had received 140 responses to a further consultation it put out in the new year on what would make it easier for providers to meet an earlier final return date.

A Skills Funding Agency spokesperson said it “wasn’t in a position to share details” of the consultation until after its next board meeting on Wednesday March 6.

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