Guidance

ESFA post-16: intervention and accountability

Information about the intervention framework for post-16 education and skills providers.

Oversight

Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) allocates significant annual funding to providers of education and skills training for young people and adults. We hold providers to account for their performance to ensure meet our requirements for financial sustainability and that they consistently raise standards.

In April 2013, the Department for Education (DfE), jointly with the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published Rigour and responsiveness in skills. This provided a framework for rapid and decisive intervention in response to under-performance. This is now supplemented by College Oversight: Support and Intervention (April 2019) and How ESFA maintains oversight of Independent Training Providers (April 2019).

Whilst most the approaches described in published policy and support documentation are aligned, there are some differences in how they are implemented, reflecting the different types of providers that are in receipt of funding from ESFA. This page highlights relevant information for each provider type.

Funding Agreements and Contracts for Services

A key source of reference for any provider is its own funding agreement, or contract for services that covers its ESFA-funded provision. We will publish the core templates of these documents each year.

Prevention

The purpose of prevention is to try and identify risks and issues early, before they become problems. We collect a range of data, through ILR, financial returns and other performance data. Should our data analysis demonstrate potential future risks, we may ask for more information from providers, to enable us to understand the situation fully and decide what, if any, further action or support may be required to protect learners and public funds.

Interventions

The following sections outline some core principles for different providers.

Colleges

The College Oversight: Support and Intervention policy document outlines the approach to managing risk in colleges. Its overall aim is to improve financial resilience and quality by incentivising and supporting college leaders to recognise issues and take early action.

Early intervention

The policy document sets out the range of triggers that would categorise a college as being in early intervention, alongside the range of improvement tools that are available. Tools used will vary depending on their relevance to the individual circumstances of the case. Actions will be taken in line with clauses in the funding agreement.

One tool is the use of a Further Education Commissioner led Diagnostic Assessment. This assessment aims to support leadership teams and governing bodies by providing recommendations to accelerate improvements, reducing both the risk to learners and the likelihood of the college requiring formal intervention. The findings of these assessments are not published. The assessment may find that the college’s approach is endorsed; make some suggested actions to strengthen or supplement existing improvements; or, where stronger and swifter actions are required, may recommend the college being escalated to formal intervention

Formal intervention

The policy document sets out the range of triggers that would categorise a college as being in formal intervention. This include a set of nine finance-driven triggers, alongside two quality performance triggers.

In addition, escalation of a college to formal intervention can be a recommendation following a Further Education Commissioner led diagnostic assessment. It is expected that this will only occur in exceptional circumstances. More information on this and how it fits within our early intervention approach is available in the policy document.

Where intervention is triggered, ESFA will implement the DfE policy in line with any contract or funding agreement, which may override any information on this page where there are differences.

Ofsted inspections

If a sixth-form or further education college receives an inadequate Ofsted judgement, the FE Commissioner will undertake an assessment of the capacity and capability of the college’s current leadership and management to lead improvement, and make recommendations to the minister about appropriate intervention action.

Recommendations in any published Ofsted report, together with recommendations from published FE Commissioner reports are additional conditions for continued funding. Non-compliance with these recommendations could result in further action.

Financial intervention

We assess the financial position of the college in line with the college financial planning handbook, based on three financial indicators, on receipt of financial plans and audited accounts. The policy document details the 9 triggers for financial intervention and the associated actions we may take. Where a college meets any of these triggers, and where we judge that it should be put into intervention, we will issue a Notice to Improve (NtI). This NtI will be published on GOV.UK. NtIs will be reviewed and updated at least annually. In addition, the FE Commissioner will undertake an assessment of the capacity and capability of the college, as for inspection intervention above. Summaries of FE Commissioner assessments will be published on GOV.UK.

Independent training providers (ITPs)

We have published information on how ESFA maintains oversight for ITPs (April 2019). This includes the implementation of interventions.

Ofsted inspections and financial triggers

Where an ITP is graded overall inadequate by Ofsted, or meets one of the financial intervention triggers, they can expect to have their contracts terminated early, subject to protecting the interests of learners. Where we have evidence that learners’ interests would be best served by maintaining the contract we will only do so under strict conditions with rigorous monitoring, and we will seek to terminate the contract immediately if the ITP fails to improve.

Higher education institutions (HEIs)

ESFA does not undertake financial assessments of higher education institutions (HEI) that deliver FE provision, instead relying on those assessments completed by Office for Students (OfS). ESFA will work with OfS where any serious issues are identified in relation to the financial sustainability of the FE provision, and will confirm any intervention actions that will be undertaken.

Where an HEI delivers FE provision that is in scope for inspection by Ofsted, we will take account of Ofsted’s inspection findings, including any published monitoring visits. Where an HEI receives an inadequate Ofsted judgement for its FE provision, the FE Commissioner will undertake an assessment of the capacity and capability of the HEI’s current leadership and management to lead improvement, and make recommendations to the minister about appropriate intervention action.

Recommendations in any published Ofsted report, together with recommendations from published FE Commissioner reports are additional conditions for continued funding. Non-compliance with these recommendations could result in further action.

Local authority

ESFA does not undertake financial assessments of local authorities (LAs) in respect of any ESFA funded provision. However, where we fund LAs to deliver FE provision that is in scope for inspection by Ofsted, we will take account of Ofsted’s inspection findings, including any published monitoring visits. As with colleges, where Ofsted judge an LA to be overall inadequate, the LA may be referred to the FE Commissioner for an assessment of the capacity and capability of the LA’s current education provision leadership and management to lead improvement, and make recommendations to the minister about appropriate intervention action.

Recommendations in any published Ofsted report, together with recommendations from published FE Commissioner reports will become additional conditions for continued funding. Non-compliance with these recommendations could result in further action.

Apprenticeship training providers (all types)

On 30 January 2018, we published information on the approach to intervention for apprenticeship provision. If you are delivering apprenticeship provision and are rated as inadequate by Ofsted either for ‘apprenticeships’ or for ‘overall effectiveness’ please refer to this document, in addition to information on this page, to understand how this will affect your apprenticeship funding.

Minimum standards – apprenticeship provision only

In addition to financial and Ofsted intervention activities, we will apply the current Minimum Standards policy to apprenticeship provision (all ages) in the 2019/20 academic year (based on 2018/19 year data) for one final year. Further information on thresholds and how apprenticeship performance will be considered in the future is available here.

New providers – any provider in receipt of funding for apprenticeship provision for the first time, and newly merged colleges

Providers must ensure they are familiar with the most recent Ofsted produced Common Inspection Framework and the associated inspection handbook.

Ofsted undertake monitoring visits in a number of areas including to all new ESFA funded providers; new, directly funded apprenticeship providers; and to recently merged, and thus ungraded, colleges. These visits will result in a published monitoring visit report which will include a progress judgement of insufficient, reasonable or significant progress in key areas.

When Ofsted publish a monitoring visit report that finds that ‘insufficient progress’ has been made under one or more of the themes assessed, then unless an exceptional extenuating circumstance is identified, we will take a range of actions as outlined in contracts and funding agreements. The approach to intervention for apprenticeship provision also outlines the specific actions that will be taken in response to published Ofsted monitoring visits for new apprenticeships provision.

Non-maintained special schools (NMSS)

ESFA assesses the financial health of a NMSS annually and works in partnership with DfE, which regulates NMSS on behalf of the Secretary of State. DfE/ESFA intervene where the education performance at an NMSS is graded as inadequate. More detail is set out on GOV.UK.

Special post-16 institutions for high needs students (SPI)

Special post-16 institutions (SPIs) have places commissioned and funded by local authorities. ESFA’s funds follow those placements. SPIs receive ESFA funding under a grant agreement. ESFA assesses the financial health of SPIs on the same basis as ITPs. Where financial or education performance is at risk or underperforming ESFA works in partnership with the home LA in which the provider is located to take the right action subject to the circumstances and in the best interests of the placed learners. This can include adding additional conditions to ESFA’s grant agreement or ceasing funding where it is appropriate.

Published 23 June 2014
Last updated 1 August 2019 + show all updates
  1. We have updated the intervention and accountability for 2019.

  2. A new section called New, direct funded, apprenticeship providers has been added.

  3. The page has been updated to include policy changes from November.

  4. General update to page to reflect ESFA.

  5. Updated information has been added.

  6. Financial health and control trigger updated

  7. Updated information added on new performance measures from 2016

  8. First published.