Multiply, Skills reform

DfE puts Multiply online platform on ice

DfE says the platform is under review while it considers the right offer for learners

DfE says the platform is under review while it considers the right offer for learners

26 Apr 2023, 15:09

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A £100-million online platform designed as the “front door” for the government’s flagship Multiply maths scheme for adults has been put on ice.

The Department for Education refused to confirm whether it was still going ahead with its much-delayed procurement for the platform following an FE Week investigation in to the Multiply programme.

The Guardian yesterday reported that the digital platform element, originally planned to launch in 2022, has been shelved while the government “reviews how the wider scheme is working”.

It is unclear whether plans for the platform have been completely axed or merely delayed.

Rishi Sunak introduced Multiply while he was chancellor in 2021. Sunak has made improving maths skills a key mission of his since becoming prime minister – last week he reaffirmed his desire for all students to study maths of some kind up to the age of 18.

Multiply is a three-year programme that provides free courses for adults aged 19 or above who did not have a grade C or above in GCSE maths or equivalent level 2 maths qualification.

An online platform was planned to signpost people to the free courses in their local area, provide a diagnostic tool to assess skills levels and provide online tuition.

A prior information notice published last year ahead of a planned contract tender described it as a “critical pillar” of the bellwether scheme, but the procurement never took place. The DfE has instead paused that part of the programme as it reviews how the overall project is performing.

Funding of £559 million has been set aside for the three financial years to the end of 2024-25 from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund for Multiply. Around £430 million of that has been dished out locally – £270 million in England and £160 million for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It left £129 million for the online platform and a programme to build up evidence of what works in addressing adult numeracy.

It is not yet clear what would happen with the funding if the online platform doesn’t go ahead.

DfE told FE Week the department was keeping the Multiply online platform “under review” so that it could ensure it was delivering the right offer for learners.

It said it will update on next steps in due course.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of training provider The Skills Network, said: “As an initiative of the now prime minister, and given the recent announcement requiring maths in education through to the age of 18, the decision to suspend progress on the Multiply national digital platform is somewhat of a surprise.

“With a significant number of local authorities requiring physical face-to-face delivery, along with this news, it is yet another example of the DfE veering away from innovative online solutions, while the rest of the word becomes excited by the opportunities that digital and artificial intelligence provide in terms of quality, efficiency and accessibility of skills development.”

An FE Week investigation earlier this month found that delivery on the ground for Multiply had been mired in red tape and complicated funding.

Funding allocations to local authorities had been slow, with some only receiving their allocations in December despite having submitted plans in the summer, while contacts were also delayed in reaching providers in some instances.

Elsewhere, prices from providers have varied wildly, and engaging with adults that have low numeracy skills has proved difficult as many do not want to seek help.

DfE data up to the end of February 2023 indicated that 13,500 learners had participated in the scheme so far.

Sue Pember, director for policy and external relations at adult education provider network Holex, said she remained positive about Multiply, as thousands of adults have improved their maths, and said that while an online tool would be useful there were “already a lot of excellent resources for teachers already online”.

On the Multiply programme more broadly, Pember added: “It’s a great initiative and we need to give it time. Any over-zealous bureaucratic processes will settle down but it is important to demonstrate that government funds are being used wisely.”

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