The Education and Training Foundation has agreed to repay £6.2 million to the government following a dispute over a T Levels contract.
The charity benefitted from a huge, unexpected surplus on its T Level Professional Development (TLPD) programme between 2019 and 2022 because costs were much lower during the pandemic, when most of the scheme was delivered online.
Department for Education officials argued that the ETF should return up to £7.5 million but could not challenge this legally because the contract requirements had been delivered.
The ETF sought legal advice and pushed back claiming it should only repay £1.5 million.
Recently published ETF accounts for 2021/22 reveal that both parties have agreed a £6.2 million settlement – four times the amount the foundation offered.
The clawback meant the foundation went from a surplus of £5.6 million in 2020/21 to a deficit of £1.7 million in 2021/22.
Both parties told FE Week the £6.2 million repayment is “fair”.
ETF interim chief executive Jenny Jarvis said: “Over the last year, we worked together to reflect on the structure and mechanism of delivery over the full course of the TLPD contract.
“We mutually agreed a delivery model that provided value for money to the public purse as well as to ensure the most effective support to teachers and institutions delivering the new T Levels. As the project evolved, we mutually agreed with DfE a return of £6.227 million over the course of the whole programme as a fair reflection of the cost of delivery.
“Our relationship with DfE remains extremely strong, open and collegiate and we continue to work with them to deliver a wide number of programmes, alongside TLPD.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “The repayment figure was informed by independent audit activity and is fair.”
Just under £76 million was awarded to the ETF by the DfE to deliver the TLPD up to 2024.
The programme is designed to promote understanding of the government’s new flagship T Level qualifications. From May 2019 to July 2022, almost 15,000 individuals participated in the TLPD.
The ETF said it has supported more than 28,000 activities as part of TLPD, including live online and face-to-face workshops, e-learning resources, mentoring, networking, and industry collaboration.
According to the foundation, 95 per cent of participants in 2021/22 said the TLPD “would have a positive impact on their professional practice” while 90 per cent said it had “increased their confidence to deliver T Levels”.
The contract runs until 2024.
The ETF has significantly increased its headcount in recent years to account for the TLPD contract and other grant-funded programmes: staff numbers shot up from 75 in 2019/20 to 141 in 2020/21 to 185 in 2021/22.
Staff costs increased from £7.577 million in 2020/21 to £9.853 million 2021/22.
But in March 2022 the ETF announced the DfE was slashing its grant funding.
Jarvis said the headcount changes are linked to three aspects.
She told FE Week: “The first is the increase in direct delivery [away from subcontracting] associated with the move from grant to contract. The second is the fact that we have set up new teams at ETF who are directly involved in enabling the delivery of contract activity.
“Thirdly, investing in the sector requires investing in capacity to respond to future opportunities and secure a sustainable future for ETF. Investing in our workforce has ensured that we are able to offer a high quality and effective programme across a wide range of workforce development areas, and we are also supporting our capacity to respond to future opportunities.”
AELP returns as co-owners
The ETF was launched in 2013 and was initially funded entirely by the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills but “owned” by the Association of Colleges, Association of Employment and Learning Providers and adult education provider network HOLEX.
AELP ditched its “ownership” of the ETF in 2018, claiming it is “no longer an organisation run by the FE sector for the sector”.
But AELP reapplied to return as a co-owner last year. The association’s chief executive Jane Hickie said at the time that this is a “critical time for the FE sector and our workforces” in the face of the cost-of-living crisis and inflation pressures, so “we need a collaborative approach to tackle the challenges with an ETF that represents the interests of the sector as a whole”.
Jarvis told FE Week that AELP’s application has now been accepted.
She said: “The ETF’s members [which now also include the Trades Union Congress and Natspec] considered the application and agreed that AELP should be re-appointed. We are delighted to welcome them back. Members have a meaningful role in the stewardship of the ETF.”