DfE switches to individualised learner record for skills bootcamps amid dodgy data concerns

There were reports of serious gaps in outcomes data under the previous system

There were reports of serious gaps in outcomes data under the previous system

28 Jan 2022, 7:00

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All new skills bootcamp providers will be required to submit information about their courses through the individualised learner record (ILR) – a change that comes after reports of serious gaps in outcomes data.

Previously, bootcamp providers were required to submit data via a form every month. However, a process evaluation report last year found that incomplete data was being returned by providers which hindered their ability to identify how many participants secured a job or received a pay rise.

Now, for those bootcamps procured through the £60 million wave 3 competition, the DfE is asking providers to submit their data via the ILR – a system stakeholders have said will be more reliable.

The DfE told FE Week that “providers already submit data via the ILR for other skills provision, such as apprenticeships and the adult education budget, so the move to using ILR data just brings skills bootcamps in line with the wider system”.

A spokesperson said ILR data submission will allow the DfE to make payments to providers for skills bootcamps using ILR data, rather than providers needing to submit invoices.  

In addition to the ILR data, the DfE said it will continue to collect additional data from providers to inform the evaluation of bootcamps.  

The DfE confirmed to FE Week that only registered learning providers can use the ILR. They also confirmed that providers who are delivering wave 1 and wave 2 skills bootcamps have not been asked to submit data on these skills bootcamps via the ILR and the DfE is not changing this. 

Unreliable bootcamp data

Skills bootcamps are one part of the national skills fund, a £2.5 billion initiative to help adults train and gain skills quickly to improve their job prospects.

The bootcamps offer free, flexible courses of up to 16 weeks for adults aged 19 or over who are either in work, self-employed, recently unemployed or returning to work after a break.

The government initially tested the scheme in a range of digital skills, such as digital marketing, software development and cyber security, from autumn 2020 with an £8 million pot. It has since expanded, with an additional £42 million, across England to include a wider range of more technical and specialist courses.

In October 2021, a process evaluation report for the first digital skills bootcamps found that the data obtained by the DfE from training providers did not cover all the bootcamps and did not consistently cover all of the geographic areas involved.

Researchers also found incomplete data on job and salary outcomes, even though the DfE specified this information must be captured.  

The report said: “It seemed likely that these data had not been completed consistently (if at all) by providers, since there was no data on starting salaries and three learners were recorded as gaining a job.”  

At the time, Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said bootcamps are a “good idea” but without “proper data we don’t know if they’ve succeeded in their aim of helping people into work”.  

Sector leaders welcomed the DfE’s decision to use the ILR system for wave 3 providers, saying that it will enable more accurate data collection. “Gaps in bootcamp data – and especially learner outcomes – is something our members consistently raise concerns about,” Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, told FE Week.

“AELP welcomes a move to ILR data collection, especially given that it is in line with reporting from all other mainstream provision, and therefore an approach providers are used to.

“It is an issue we have lobbied the DfE to take action on. It’s great that they have listened and are taking the action needed.”

Steve Hewitt, a management information systems and FE funding expert, also welcomed ESFA standardising data returns for bootcamps.

“It’s slightly surreal that it wasn’t there from the beginning, but this is what happens when new ideas are introduced at the drop of a hat,” he said. 

Hewitt added that the use of ILR will “allow us to see more clearly how they work, in comparison to other, longer standing programmes”.

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