Exclusive: SFA will improve new interactive data dashboards following complaints

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has said it will improve its tool for viewing qualification achievement rates (QAR) following complaints from providers — but is unable to say when.

The twice-delayed QARs were finally made available on April 5 via new interactive dashboards on the SFA’s online hub.

However, the dashboards did not include the facility to view national averages for individual qualifications – information that has been available in previous years, before the introduction of the interactive dashboards.

A number of providers took to the SFA’s FE Connect forums in the days following the QAR publication to vent their frustration at the missing information.

“As the dashboard does not have the detail that we require it will mean that MIS staff across the country will have to do a piece of work to bring their own figures and the national averages together at the qual/framework level – this is what providers and Ofsted will want to see,” said Paul Taylor, systems and MI manager at Skills Solutions.

“I did not expect that we would have to do this and therefore this is very frustrating,” he continued.

Another provider with the username anixon wrote: “I’m not happy that not only can I not get national rates at learning aim level, there also doesn’t seem to be a way to get national rates by level for the various qualification types – eg. Diploma Level 3.”

“Not only that, but I’m yet to see a way to get overall rates for retention or pass rate, just the various drill downs,” they continued.

Another user, nicolah, said: “Would still like to get the dashboard to behave so that I can see some national levels separately for English and Maths and not just lumped together.”

When asked by FE Week if the missing information would be made available, a spokesperson for the SFA said: “Since the interactive dashboards were published we have had some very constructive feedback.

“In responding to that feedback we are developing an additional interactive dashboard that will give providers national rates at aim and framework level for comparison.”

However, the spokesperson said they were “unable to give a timeframe at present” for when this additional dashboard would be available.

In addition to comments about the missing functionality, providers have also been expressing their general dislike of the new interactive dashboards.

“I must say I was also very unimpressed with the whole thing,” anixon also wrote on FE Connect.

“Overall it seems to be a case of lots of style and little of substance. Looks to me like a step backwards and not at all what I was expecting, especially given the 3 month delay,” they concluded.

Another frustrated user MartinL stated on the forum that “it looks like a very expensive step backwards”.

Another provider, who only called himself Neil, commented on FE Week’s article earlier this month about the QAR.

He said: “You cannot download the data tables in PDF form and when you try to in Excel of pivot tables they are full of errors in the presentation that make them unusable.

“All in all a thoroughly disappointing experience that has prioritised graphical imaging over actual useable data.”

When asked by FE Week to respond to the criticism, the SFA said: “The new interactive dashboards were developed and designed in consultation with the sector and Ofsted which meant we could incorporate suggestions made by providers.”

Although national rates not yet included for individual qualifications, they are there for type and level. Commenting on this, the spokesperson said: “National rates are available in the dashboards and they can be filtered in any of the charts to give a more detailed view at qualification type, age band or level.”

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  1. Tsai Harding

    On the subject of National Rates, would like to know when the National Achievement Rate Tables (previously the NSRT)will be made available.

    This will help resolve some of the issues having more comprehensive comparative and benchmarking data.

  2. Andrew Nixon

    Quoted in FE Week – fame at last!

    I’m interested in the SFA spokesperson’s claim that “National rates…can be filtered in any of the charts to give a more detailed view at qualification type, age band or level”. This is categorically not true. When I look at the “Qualification Type” section, I can filter by age band, I can filter by Qualification Type, but I absolutely can not filter by level. On the Level page I can filter by age band and level, but not qualification type. On the SSA page, I can’t filter by level. I could go on.

    Re the National Achievement Rate Tables, these were originally due out next week but have also been delayed – 16th May is the date we’ve been given.

  3. In addition to the criticisms already covered in the article, I would also like to comment on how unacceptably slow the dashboard is. I am running it over a high speed broadband and could make myself a cup of coffee every time I want to select a different option e.g. clicking on a different age category. Additionally, it keeps timing me out even when I am accessing it several times per minute!! I can’t imagine what it will be like at times of peak activity e.g. during a major ILR return. The tool is utterly useless for sharing analysis across the organisation, e.g. with the Board or for overall Self Assessment Reporting. I am having to do a load of screen grabs and paste them into a huge(200 pages and still counting) document just to have what I had before at my fingertips in the QSR PDF reports. Like other comments already made, I need to get access to the full dataset of national rates. Who needs a fancy dashboard – we just need access to all of the performance data and tables work better for this in my view. Fine, use a dashboard for making some performance data accessible and understandable to the public. However, if our managers need the data presented in a user friendly dashboard in order for them to identify good and poor performance, they are not up to their jobs in my view. The screen grabs are a particular problem where there are scroll bars as you need several screen grabs to capture it all. The exports are a joke as the PDFs are not really PDFs, they are just screen grabs so where there is a scroll bar, it only shows what you can see on the screen. Proper PDF exports would have gone some considerable way to solving my problems. The pivot tables, as mentioned in the article, are riddled with so many errors they are unusable. What a waste of money solving a problem that did not even exist. I emailed the Hub contacts last week before the FE week article was run asking how I could provide constructive feedback but, not surprisingly, did not even receive the courtesy of a response. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have spent the equivalent of 3 whole days so far this week trying to get the info from the dashboard into a format that I can actually use. Maybe the powers that be think I’ve got plenty of time to do that; after all I am only the Principal.