ETF chief defends handing £1m learning tech contract to Gazelle amid ‘scepticism’ of the organisation

Education and Training Foundation (ETF) chief executive David Russell has spoken out to defend the awarding of a £1m learning technology contract to Gazelle as he acknowledged “scepticism” about the organisation.

The Gazelle Foundation beat three other bidders to win the learning technology contract, due to end by November next year, thanks to the “depth of knowledge and understanding” it displayed, Mr Russell (pictured above) told FE Week.

It comes just weeks after a month-long FE Week investigation into multi-million pound funding of Gazelle by UK colleges resulted in criticism from the University and College Union that public money was being used on “expensive initiatives which have little educational impact”.

It raked in around £3.5m with the group’s five founding colleges having dished out more than £530,000 each, according to figures obtained from Freedom of Information Act. More than 20 current and former member colleges had been asked what they spent on the organisation, which was launched in January 2012 with standard annual membership priced at £35,000.

Gazelle chief executive Fintan Donohue (pictured below) defended the organisation at the time, claiming “enrichment of student experiences and outcomes” was its “overriding goal”.

Nevertheless, ETF chief executive Mr Russell approached FE Week to defend the learning technology contract going to Gazelle.

He said: “I read the papers. I know there is scepticism in some quarters about Gazelle, who will lead the consortium on this delivery work for us. I understand some teachers and lecturers have asked pointed questions about whether Gazelle deliver on their promises, and about whether they always act in the interests of learners.”

He added: “They [Gazelle and its partners] won the contract because their bid was convincing in the depth of knowledge and understanding it displayed; dynamic and innovative; pedagogy-focused not technology-focused; and above all with learner benefit at its heart.

“This programme will provide support across the education and training sector, including colleges, private training providers and others (it is not aimed at any particular group of providers).

“Gazelle will be assisted by its consortium partners — the Association of Colleges (AoC), Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) , 157 Group, and National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), together with a wider steering group that they are convening to oversee the programme.” [The rest of Mr Russell’s statement can be read here]

Gazelle has also previously been awarded five ETF contracts, totalling £168k, for work including strategic consultation on learning companies, and two stages of strategic consultation on vocational education training, technology in teaching and higher level apprenticeships.

However, its latest ETF contract is easily the biggest it has won yet, at £1m.

Fintan Online

Mr Donohue said: “The ETF’s learning technology programme will give a boost to innovation and the sharing of best practice across the sector.

“By coordinating input from teachers and leaders across all of the education and training sector, employers and the technology industry around the emerging themes for development, Gazelle hopes it can contribute to the success of the programme.

“The Feltag [Further Education Learning Technology Action Group] report makes the challenge for our sector clear. The ETF has a clear vision on what they want from the programme and we are pleased to be working very closely with them to deliver their requirements. We look forward to bringing all our energy and networks together to help the ETF achieve its vision in the year ahead.”

Jenny Williams, ETF director of vocational education and training, said the contract drew on Feltag findings and recommendations of the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning.

She said: “A suite of innovation and action research projects will sit at the heart of the programme, and communities of practice will enable the spread of learning from these projects through local and regional networks.

“The projects will be inclusive and innovative, engaging with staff and organisations right across the education and training sector, and involving both learners and employers in their design, delivery and review.”

A Gazelle spokesperson told FE Week: “An initial advisory group has been convened that already includes representatives from the 157 Group, AoC and AELP. This is being extended to bring in the widest possible representation of colleges and training providers from across the sector.

 “Expert advice is being sought from organisations such as NFER and Coralesce, and the programme will engage with a range of technology organisations and entrepreneurs.

“A more detailed prospectus and overview of the project and partners will be produced in the coming weeks.”

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  1. Paula Elliott

    £1 Million Pounded Rewarded to Gazelle!

    Yes One Million pound for just over a year contract! Not sure what the Skills Minister Matthew Hancock is doing. The contract is for Learning Technologies Support Programme! Are Gazelle the leading technologists in education? This is just incompetency and madness by ETF. It is abuse of public funds.

    Well of course, Gazelle has a seat on the ETF Board. that’s how they can guarantee the hijacking of the gravy train!

    In addition to this large sum, Gazelle goes further to fatten its wallet by charging an annual membership fee from colleges of about £40,000.

    The question I would like ask is: would you want to recruit or keep a teacher for this sort of money or should you pay this ridiculous amount of money as membership fee?

    As a Manager in FE, I don’t feel that anyone is listening to what is really happening here. It’s a great shame that our elected members of Parliament don’t pay attention to such a behaviour and misuse of public funds.

  2. This is a massive credibility test for the ETF. Its reputation is at stake. I hope its contract management is robust, clear and detailed. There has to be complete transparency with this public money. I am not confident that we will see the in depth scrutiny required on this contract. Why is it always left to FE Week to challenge these decisions. I am not satisfied with the ETF comment that they read the papers but clearly pay no attention. This is ONE MILLION POUNDS. Yet again, money going AWAY from learners. People might not always agree with FE Week but they shine a key light on some questionable activity in the sector. I bet DfE won’t know what has hit them when Academies Week starts with its impressive editorial team.

  3. FELecturer

    Another £1,000,000 wasted while FE college budgets are slashed year after year.
    What will the taxpayer get for their million pound investment? No doubt the result will be a report and a list of actions which can’t be implemented by colleges that are in debt or at least seriously struggling.

  4. Peter Marples

    So £1m shelled out to the same old colleagues who have all worked before.

    would love to see the transparency in all of this and most importantly will look forward to the outcomes – but the word outcomes is one gazelle doesn’t understand – we may have some more pants to buy at subsidised rates !

    disgusted tax payer !

  5. Julian Howes

    Someone needs to remove these vampyric leeches from our backs. Guzzle (sic) are coming to stand for much that is wrong with F.E. Money which could be put to good use is being diverted into someone’s long pockets; and they exemplify the idea that people from outside education know more than those within it who have been trained professionally.
    Using the same principle, I am thinking of starting a small dental practice in combination with a proctologist’s, which will offer massive discounts to employees of Guzzle. I mean, we’d all be untrained and not be any good, and be talking through our arses all the time, but I am sure Guzzle would be willing to see us in operation.
    I am sick and tired of being governed by idiots and incompetents in so many areas of life.
    However, it’s no good just whining – write to your MP and councillors, enclose copies of articles, or include links to them, as well as summarising. And keep on.
    Anyway, holidays soon, and time to put ourselve first for a change.

    • Richard Le Corney

      Yes, FE is becoming a case of “the blind leading the sighted”, to adapt an old expression which some may regard as “inappropriate” these days. A colleague in Construction had a lesson observation by a senior manager with no training or experience in teaching. A student in the class uttered a swear-word (“shit”) as an expression of annoyance rather than swearing at anyone. My colleague reprimanded him appropriately, and at the end of the observation was criticised for not having immediately taken the student outside and giving him a good telling-off. When my colleague pointed out that all his teacher training had emphasised that, except where absolutely necessary, the teacher should not disrupt the whole class for the sake of one student, the manager arrogantly told him he was wrong. Another colleague who was given a poor observation grade by the same manager refused to sign the observation, appealed, was observed by someone else and was given a grade he was happy with. I’m sure we all have similar stories. Yet it is just this sort of people who are sucking in government money for their “expertise” in teaching and learning.

  6. Richard Le Corney

    I wonder what relevance the “learning technology contract” has to the ETF’s charitable objects, which are all to do with the professionalism of the people working in FE:
    And we have to wonder about transparency when the Gazelle Foundation has not yet filed its shareholder details:

  7. Orange Bob

    Excellent. Gazelle wins external income, having proven its abilities. Gazelle will make a profit, and its investing colleges will reap the benefits, providing more funds for learning in their own institutions. This is called investment and return. Income beyond that which colleges could normally expect has been gained. That’s good news. Not too difficult a concept, surely?

    • Richard Le Corney

      But which Gazelle, and which shareholders? Gazelle Global still lists its shareholders as the five founding colleges. The contract has actually gone to The Gazelle Foundation, which has not yet filed its shareholder details. According to Gazelle Global’s Directors’ report and financial statements for the year ended 31st July 2013, “The Gazelle Foundation was created to take on the not-for-profit activities of the Gazelle Colleges Group and the promotion of the educational concepts, it also became the company’s sole shareholder.” So the contract has gone to the not-for-profit part of Gazelle, it is the sole shareholder, and its shareholders can’t make a profit even if we knew who they were. As for educational concepts, the statement I’ve quoted has a punctuation error, using a comma to join two clauses instead of a semicolon. (My commas in the last sentence do not join clauses.) The contract has not gone to Gazelle Transform Limited, which “was formed to take on the commercial activities including the Gazelle Leadership programme.” That organisation has not yet filed its shareholder details either.
      It’s no wonder that some of us think that Gazelle smells as if is a left-over from Billingsgate fish market at closing time!