Impact of ‘spiteful’ ESFA adult education claw back plans revealed


A college has warned it will have to hand back over £4 million under the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s “spiteful” adult education budget claw back plans.

Leicester College told FE Week it has forecast to spend 53 per cent of its £11 million allocation for 2020/21 – meaning it could have to hand back 37 per cent up to the allowance threshold of 90 per cent announced on Monday.

“The college is unlikely to be able to make up the remaining allocation in the final term of the year,” a spokesperson said, as they believe many adult learners are “unwilling” to sign-up until the vaccine programme has completed.

The Association of Colleges has predicted that most of their members will deliver between 75 to 85 per cent of their allocations, which would mean a total clawback of between £22 million and £62 million.

‘Not clear’ what the implications will be

While the cause of under-delivery can largely be attributed to the various national lockdowns owing to Covid-19, Leicester College has been in continuous lockdown with the rest of the city since March 2020.

“The current year has been impacted by the pandemic far more severely than 2019/20,” the college spokesperson said.

While it is “not clear” what the full implications of this will be, the college said it is “clear” there will be consequences for cashflow, for its capital programmes and future plans for 2021/22.

The college is refurbishing its Abbey Park campus ahead of starting the government’s flagship T Level courses in a number of different areas this September.

Adult education threshold ‘feels a bit spiteful’

The ESFA has come in for widespread criticism for setting the 90 per cent threshold, which will affect grant-funded colleges and councils with AEB, 19 to 24 traineeships, and advanced learner loans bursary allocations.

adult education
Julian Gravatt

AoC deputy chief executive Julian Gravatt warned in a blog on his association’s website yesterday that other colleges will lose “six figure sums”.

Plus, he said, it could cancel out funding for the government’s new level 3 entitlement, due to start next month under the new National Skills Fund.

“It is good that DfE has accepted the need for a lower threshold, but a 10 per cent tolerance is not much given the disruptions of the year and will leave some colleges scrambling for enrolments or savings,” Gravatt added.

Sue Pember, formerly a senior Department for Education official before becoming director of policy for adult education network Holex, said during an FE Week webcast earlier this week the threshold “just makes it really hard, and feels a bit spiteful”.

Bob Harrison, chair of adult education provider Northern College and a governor of Oldham College, tweeted following the announcement: “So let me get this straight: The government forces our colleges to close and therefore we are unable to recruit and run our short courses.

“But we have already employed teachers and have fixed costs. Then the ESFA are going to clawback if we don’t hit 90 per cent of target? Its Catch 22.”

Luke Rake, principal of land-based Kingston Maurward College expressed his indignation, tweeting: “And lo! Adult education is killed off completely.

“Couldn’t deliver due to enforced lockdowns, didn’t furlough staff based on ESFA advice, ESFA now tells us we’ve still got to give the money back, having paid wages for a year. Helpful. Thanks.”

Threshold a ‘fair representation’ of delivery

A much more generous threshold of 68 per cent was set for last year’s AEB.

But in the announcement on Monday, the agency said the 90 per cent threshold was a “fair representation” of grant-funded providers’ average delivery.

They acknowledged the situation “is still difficult for providers,” but they “have been able to continue remote delivery very successfully during lockdown, having built on the experience of 2019 to 2020 to establish effective contingency arrangements to manage Covid-19 restrictions”.

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. FE Watch


    Overly generous is probably a more appropriate term to describe what the ESFA are proposing.

    Yet again this is an example of a college not using the 32% gift in 2019/20 to change their delivery model to online learning ,

    Imagine being a PTP – or a highly performing FE College – who didn’t get the 32% gift in 2019/20, changed its delivery model to meet the needs of a changing environment and is now faced with unemployed learners needing training to get back into work and no money to fund them.

    Even worse imagine being an unemployed learner in desperate need of training who cannot get the support they need but yet some FE Colleges are getting money for nothing!

    It could happen in FE!

    • Dave Spart

      Isn’t it fortunate that buildings, utilities, staffing and other fixed costs all magically shrunk by 32% last year? Otherwise things might be a little more complicated than you recognise.

    • Bob Harrison

      We have converted provision to online but if the college was closed for a long period of time not all provision can be converted and we were told not to furlough staff . So impossible to reach 90% but fixed costs remain I say “Catch 22”

    • Bob Smith

      ITPs are often focused on high volume online provision (at low cost), that provides very little in terms of outcomes (i.e. learners into jobs). Replacing what Colleges do, which is the more challenging and expensive delivery, that gets good job outcomes, with this, does not make any sense.

      Please remember also, that colleges are charitable organisations. I find it very questionable when I see ITPs generating huge profits, lining the pockets of their shareholders, yet you question charitable organisations being supported in this way.

  2. Dave Spart

    So despite the fact that the effects of Covid only hit in the final term of 2020/21 but have impacted on the whole of the current academic year, the ESFA have decided in their infinite wisdom that this year’s threshold should be much higher than last. This is an absolute kick in the teeth for all the colleagues in the sector who have worked tirelessly to deliver to the best of our ability in the most difficult circumstances.

    My only hope is that, given that they changed their minds three times last year before settling on a formula, this decision can be reversed. That will only happen if we voice our unhappiness loud and clear.

  3. Dave Spart

    A small point, but shouldn’t your article read that the college were forecasting to *earn* 53% of their allocation? They will almost certainly be forecasting to *spend* more than that – which is precisely the problem.

  4. Hadlowstaffer

    ‘Spiteful’ surely not? The ESFA stands for independence objectivity and trust. The last FE commissioner never let his personal feelings get in the way of openness and honesty. It would just not happen.

  5. Yes, clawback will cause inequity and be difficult to manage – but you have to be even handed and open when making the argument against it or you undermine your own argument.

    For example, on the one hand saying the Government closed Colleges and which means no short courses. Then on the other hand claim a successful roll out of online delivery. Same with costs, presumably the teachers and staff not teaching those courses that didn’t run will be on furlough, which will have reduced costs.

    Looks like the heady days of all working through this together in a grown manner way have gone out of the window.

  6. Terry Bentley

    Colleges were paid on profile for the 19-20 academic year. Classrooms were closed from April to July but staff were employed. This gave them at least 4 months to deploy their staff to develop online resources to meet the needs of their local communities. If they failed to use this time wisely then it is entirely their own fault for failing to hit an incredibly generous allowance threshold.

  7. Sarah FE Lecturer

    In the final term of 19:20, we ran courses for free to keep learners ‘warm’ for September enrolments. Teaching staff weren’t furloughed.

    However, come September, some learners were simply not willing to sign up or pay for part online, part face-to-face courses. No matter how good the provision, online learning just isn’t desirable, suitable or feasible for everyone.

    For instance, a lot of my learners were in lockdown in noisy shared accommodation, without laptops and without enough money for sufficient mobile data. We now have some government-funded Chromebooks for them, but this doesn’t solve the data issue. Digital poverty is a real barrier.