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SFA gets tough on data manipulation

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The Skills Funding Agency has insisted that it is "not acceptable" for providers to manipulate data to artificially boost their success rates, and has vowed to crack down on malpractice.

Last week TES revealed North Hertfordshire College principal Matt Hamnett uncovered evidence his college had deliberately withheld student information from the SFA to inflate its success rate before he arrived.

The college’s success rate for classroom based learning in 2013/14 was originally reported as 90.5 per cent. When the omitted data was included it showed that it was actually 86.4 per cent. As a result the college would have dropped from 11th in the national success rates tables to 51st.

Mr Hamnett said that, as a consequence of his investigation, the college’s senior management team had been “refreshed” and “appropriate disciplinary action” had been taken.

The SFA started a crackdown on data manipulation in 2009. In a new statement, the agency told TES the practice was “not acceptable”.

“Providers are responsible for the accuracy of the data they submit and for ensuring that they only claim for funds to which they are entitled,” it said.

“We expect every provider to submit delivery and performance data that gives a true reflection of its position.”

The SFA said it carried out funding audits on colleges and training providers to help it make sure provision has been delivered in accordance with its funding rules.

In the case of North Hertfordshire College, the SFA was kept informed of the principal’s investigation and reviewed his report, but decided to take no further action.

However, the SFA said it would conduct its own investigations where necessary.

“Should we find any delivery and performance data issues that have not been addressed, either reported by a college or provider or picked up through our systems, we will take action,” it said. “We also alert Ofsted and [the Education Funding Agency] of any issues.

“If funding has been claimed that is not in accordance with our funding rules and funding agreements we will take action to seek repayments.

“We continue to review our financial assurance, audit processes and validation rules, as well as our funding monitoring work, to ensure that public funds remain protected.”

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