A college has admitted it may have exaggerated success rates by up to 10 per cent, despite warnings from the FE funding body about institutions manipulating results data.
Croydon College is the first to own up to inflating its success rates since Skills Funding Agency (SFA) chief executive Geoff Russell started a crackdown on colleges which failed to report details of unsuccessful students to boost results and funding.
The issue at Croydon was uncovered after new principal Frances Wadsworth was appointed last year, taking up her post in January. A report to governors said: "Depending on the methodology employed, the effect on overall success rates might lie between 4 per cent and 10 per cent."
Former principal Mariane Cavalli, now in charge of Warwickshire College, said she had only been made aware of an investigation regarding last year's functional skills success rates. She said the data issues would not have affected the college's last inspection in 2009, which rated it good.
"The data used by Ofsted for the college's last inspection was from 200708; the outcomes would not have been any different," she said.
The discovery suggests that manipulation of success rates did not disappear when the SFA confronted it in 2009. Some reports have suggested inflation of success rates was widespread, although this is the first institution to be named since officials began the crackdown.
A survey of 120 colleges by Nick Linford, director of FE consultancy Lsect, last year found that 60 per cent said they were still not fully complying with the new SFA guidelines.
An internal report by the then Learning and Skills Council, made public last year by the Conservatives in opposition, explained that colleges improved their success rates by retrospectively eliminating the records of unsuccessful students.
Techniques ranged from extending the end date, removing them from that year's figures, to simply scrubbing unsuccessful students from the record under the guise of data cleansing.
The report found that 42 colleges saw the number of students fall by more than 10 per cent in the final data returns, raising concerns that some of these may have eliminated the results of students who failed. But late changes can also be the result of correcting genuine errors.
David Willetts, then shadow skills minister, said after revealing the report that the connection between funding and success rates should be reduced in order to lessen the incentive for colleges to manipulate their results.
A Croydon College spokesman said: "Following some initial concerns regarding data returns and compliance with best practice, the college took action and commissioned auditors RSM Tenon to investigate further.
"Some anomalies were found, shared fully and immediately with the SFA and rigorously addressed."
The SFA said it was monitoring how the college was improving its reporting of success rates.