Skills reform

ESFA to seek bids for national strategic development fund rollout

Other providers can be part of local projects, but bids can only be led by colleges

Other providers can be part of local projects, but bids can only be led by colleges

16 Mar 2022, 16:53

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Colleges in every area of England will soon be invited to submit bids to another round of the new strategic development fund (SDF), the Education and Skills Funding Agency has announced. 

Colleges have today been given advanced warning of the upcoming opportunity that will be worth £85 million in total next year. They will however only have, at best, nine months to spend the money.

In an update released today, the agency said that applications will open on April 1 for SDF bids for the 2022-23 financial year. The agency “anticipates” that funding will be confirmed by June but says it must be spent by March 31, 2023.

A £65 million pilot for the SDF comes to and end this month and will be replaced by a national £85 million programme. About 60 per cent, £50 million, will be set aside for capital, and the remaining £35 million for revenue.

To be successful for this year’s round of funding, bids must “include or be endorsed” by every FE college within the bid’s defined geographic area. 

The SDF was introduced last year as part of the ‘skills accelerator’ package, which invited applications for the first local skills improvement plans. It provides capital and revenue funding so providers in a local area can better align their provision to local skills priorities. 

Applications to the £85 million SDF must be based on analysis of local skills needs, including the emerging plans being developed by the local skills improvement plan trailblazers in 2021/22, and mayoral combined authority or local enterprise partnership analysis of local skills needs, the ESFA said.

Unlike last year, where it was left to employer representative bodies to determine appropriate geographies, the ESFA said it expects this year’s bids to align to mayoral combined authority or local enterprise partnership boundaries. 

As well as the support of every college, employer representative bodies must also be on board. The education secretary is seeking powers through the skills and post 16 education bill to officially designate employer representative bodies. That legislation is likely to receive royal assent in the coming weeks.

Independent training providers, sixth form colleges, institutes of technology and universities can be included in the SDF bids, and can receive funding, but they can not lead an application. Nor can colleges without a grade one or two overall effectiveness judgement from Ofsted.

Bids will open on April 1 and will close on May 13, 2022. 

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