From education to employment

College partnerships with sub-contractors – making it work

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

Of the many challenges facing the FE sector today; achieving the right balance between working with private training providers and being self-sufficient is one that continues to challenge college principals and their senior leadership teams.

The history of poor franchising, unscrupulous sub-contractors and large management fees is well documented. However, despite the hype and the headlines, at NCFE we believe that a subcontracting relationship based on trust, transparency and quality assurance can work for the benefit of colleges, particularly as they are challenged by recent changes in funding. NCFE works with a number of training providers who in turn work with colleges throughout the UK to deliver learning programmes economically.

If handled in the right way, a positive relationship between a college and a sub-contractor is low-risk, cost effective and can reach more learners with qualifications of real value. These relationships can work to support the achievement of targets for income and participation and they’re able to turn delivery projects around quickly with high success rates. They have a unique insight into both learner and employer needs which can really add value for a college.

However, it’s crucial that there is rigorous quality assurance in place – many training providers also have direct SFA contracts and are inspected by Ofsted, giving colleges further assurance. In addition to this, it’s important to have regular review meetings coupled with transparent data management for all partners, to ensure high levels of confidence in the relationship.

As long as the trust is there, training providers are in a position to extend a college’s reach into the local community and economy. Good training providers can add value to a college’s curriculum offer – they have contacts in relevant industry areas and experienced staff who understand the needs of the sectors and can build a college’s employer engagement.

Earlier this year, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) welcomed the strong recommendation from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) that all lead providers and colleges should refer to the sector’s new Common Accord and follow newly published best practice on contracting out skills training to other providers.

Jointly developed by AELP and the Association of Colleges (AoC) under a sector-led approach, the Common Accord for supply chain management will require its provider signatories to commit supply chains to making sure that the learner receives the maximum benefit from the arrangement. Providers will also agree to be guided by the principles given in the LSIS publication ‘Supply Chain Management – a good practice guide for the post-16 skills sector.’ The Common Accord and good practice guide hopes to help providers and colleges minimise the risk from supply chains and ensure high quality provision for all concerned.

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation


For further information and to help with your decision making process, you can find the rules from the SFA on sub-contracting online


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