The Education Skills and Funding Agency and the FE Commissioner's office have taken steps to “build more supportive relationships with all colleges”.
In an announcement published today, the ESFA said it would be taking a “more proactive and preventative approach” to identifying and supporting colleges that may face challenges.
It also confirmed that the current “early intervention” category will be scrapped, and instead, a new pilot will be introduced that will see colleges able to request expert help and support from the FE commissioner through a diagnostic assessment.
Previously, diagnostic assessments were only open to colleges where a new principal had been appointed. The ESFA hopes the change will help all colleges to proactively request assistance much earlier.
Need to know: Ney Review on college financial oversight published
ESFA: 'A more supportive and preventative, rather than reactive, approach'
Kirsty Evans, ESFA’s director of further education said: “Throughout the pandemic, colleges have continued to rise to the challenge of delivering education and training either safely within institutions or remotely.
“To ensure we can continue to build back better and recover, colleges will be critical to upskilling the future workforce, so it feels timely to introduce a more supportive and preventative, rather than reactive, approach to intervention, as recommended in Dame Mary Ney’s review”.
Dame Mary Ney’s review was published in July last year, and criticised the ESFA for its relationship with colleges. The review said that the nature of the current regime, the lack of a sector-wide strategy and the capacity and resources of the Education and Skills Funding Agency “have resulted in a relationship between government and the sector which is largely focused on financial failure” and which “inhibits colleges being transparent with government”.
In the announcement today, the ESFA also highlighted a new package of support, known as "active support", including a new curriculum efficiency and financial sustainability pilot programme, as well as increased support available from peer leaders through the national leaders of further education and of governance programmes, and through access to local provision reviews.
Reforms in the relationship between colleges and ESFA are already underway.
In October 2020, the government announced that colleges who apply for exceptional funding will no longer be automatically placed into formal intervention – and in March 2021, the ESFA said annual conversations would occur with college leaders.
Today, the ESFA said it expects “the length of time a college spends in intervention is expected to be shorter than in the past.”
The statement added: “Looking ahead, the small proportion of colleges that do need more intensive support through formal intervention will be provided with an agreed package of support to secure sustained improvement when they leave intervention.
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said: "I’m pleased to see this new guidance because it shows that the DfE and ESFA want to move to a more nurturing and supportive relationship with colleges. The guidance itself will help with that move, but we know more than anything this is about culture and behaviours and changing those takes time and consistency. The proof of the shift in emphasis will be how this guidance is used, how officials behave and how well colleges feel supported in what is still a very tough financial environment for colleges.
"I am confident that the intention is there to shift the relationship, I hope that this is a solid first step. The funding and accountability consultation also has important reforms in it which would help, and a commitment to a long term rebuilding of regulation, rules and relationships which we want to see over the coming years.”