DfE to pilot funding simplifications for colleges

Several funding rules and ringfences to be removed as officials bid to reduce complexity

Several funding rules and ringfences to be removed as officials bid to reduce complexity

16 Jan 2024, 14:37

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The government is seeking a “small” number of colleges to pilot simplifications to funding, audit and reporting in the next academic year.

A one-year trial set to run in 2024/25 will aim to reduce complexities by removing “several” funding rules and “some” ringfences within adult and 16 to 19 funding streams, the Department for Education said today without providing exact detail.

Colleges involved in the pilot will also be allowed to deliver skills bootcamps without the need to bid for funding through procurements and those with existing skills bootcamps contracts may be able to access additional funding.

The pilot is part of the DfE’s wider reforms to simplify FE funding and accountability, which involves merging several adult skills budgets into a single skills fund in 2024/25.

The DfE said the pilot will help to improve how the department “deliver adult skills funding to improve predictability”.

It will also “capitalise on the reduced funding rules and ringfences to simplify how we audit and assure FE funding as well as simplify back-end data processing”.

The DfE added that it will develop options with a view to test several simplifications for apprenticeships, which could “include simplifying onboarding, testing new funding approaches and streamlining end point assessment processes”.

There is a separate apprenticeship “expert” provider project currently ongoing to test ways to reduce time and resource spent aiding small employers through the apprenticeship system, learning from which will be shared “where appropriate” with the college simplification pilot.

The DfE said it will work with colleges selected for the pilot to finalise the proposals that will be tested from August 2024.

The pilot is only for general further education colleges because they “deliver the widest range of provision types and therefore are subjected to the most complexity”.

Proposals in the pilot will not impact funding that colleges receive from authorities with devolution deals for adult skills funding, the DfE said, adding that colleges in regions with devolved responsibilities for adult skills are still eligible to apply.

Those selected must be willing to increase their delivery of government “priority” schemes – such as apprenticeships and bootcamps, make a “reasonable” commitment to working with the DfE both before, during and after the pilot through regular workshops and meetings, and be “willing to complete relevant evaluation processes and requirements for the pilot”.

An expression of interest window will close on January 31, with decisions communicated to bidders in February.

From this point the colleges will work with DfE officials to finalise the exact funding rule changes and other simplification proposals ahead of the rollout in August 2024.

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  1. Remember the LSC ‘simplification’ back in 2010? The DfE have never understood they are part of the system. Simplification for them doesn’t mean simplification for providers, employers or learners.

    That round of simplification made delivery much more complex. A single course could contain learners funded in multiple different ways with multiple sets of rules.

    This round of ‘simplification’, which doesn’t include any areas covered by expanding devolution, means even more divergence. Now we have the prospect of a single course having learners funded in multiple different ways, with multiple different rules from multiple different funders… (and local politics spicing things up)

    Try working on the front line caught between having to explain options to learners / employers and leaders who believe it’s been simplified (cos the DfE told them it is!).

  2. Rob Smith

    High time for Apprenticeships! Battling against the ESFA funding rules, in collaboration with the Accountability Framework, balanced alongside Ofsted and their requirements makes it almost impossible!