Kerry Boffey, founder of Fellowship of Inspection Nominees (fin) & Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN)

It used to be said that inspections of training providers could be ‘won and lost on your data’ and that data ‘told the story of performance’ and better still, ‘numbers are easy to measure’. You could play the ‘always’, ‘sometimes’, and ‘never’ game with those statements but certainly data does project a high element of truth even if it may occasionally not completely tell the whole story.

It is suggested by some that the importance of performance data moving forward is secondary or less important to the actual personal experience of learners. This emphasis upon the impact of the training programme upon the individual learner is something many or most people would clearly welcome and it makes indisputable sense to ensure the learner at the heart everything the training provider does.

However, consider the scenario where an internal quality review finds that current learners on programme are having an incredibly positive experience, demonstrating high quality skills and understanding and making significant progress from their starting point. This sounds brilliant and who could ask for more, other than the disappointing fact that more half the learners who started on the training programme have left, and the maximum out turn at the end of the year if all current learners remain and achieve their learning goal is a 40% success rate. In this example, how might this data influence the judgments made about the overall quality of the training provision?

Let’s put external scrutiny from Ofsted or the ESFA to one side for a moment, and recognise that we as training providers need to have a totally clear insight into our provision that takes full ownership and responsibility for our performance. We need to identify what is working well and why. Similarly, we need to know at an early stage what is not working so well and the reasons for this. Once we understand the ‘why’ and the impact it is having only then can we confront the issues head on.

The current pandemic situation and challenges faced both nationally and internationally will have a significant impact on what and how you can continue to deliver, and when will society be able to move into a new normal, whatever that may be.

Looking ahead and when some form of normality returns, and Ofsted start to reschedule, what will your provision look like?  At the start of the pandemic, Paul Joyce  (Ofsted senior manager) came out clearly saying the priority was to ‘do the right thing’ both for learners and employers.


So what was the ‘right thing’ for your learners in your chosen specialist industries or sectors? What was right for your employers and indeed for your business?

The pandemic has not changed only exaggerated one of the main issues that negatively affects provider performance – namely learners remaining or not remaining in training for the duration of their programme.

I would like to propose another question

Is it true to say that if a learner stays with you until the end of the training programme then they are very likely to achieve their learning goals?

If this most definitely is the case, and I recognise that there are external assessments that can cause deferral or fail, then the fundamental issue is that the actual retention of learners on their programme is the key. At this challenging time, now more than ever, high retention is one of the key drivers for success.

If it is so simple to an observer to recognise this, why then do so few providers actually have an effective ‘Improvement of retention strategy’ that implements all the good practice to recruit the right learners on to the right programme and ensure that they that they stay until the conclusion. In normal times, do you as a provider undertake a detailed early leaver review and analyse this information?  Why did the learner leave? What did they leave to do? What could you as a provider have done to more effectively support and retain the learner? In these challenging times, how has your retention strategy been strengthened to ensure as many learners as possible feel fully supported and able to continue and achieve in their training?

Some training providers ‘lose’ more than a third of their learners every year and sadly this seems to be accepted as if it is ‘inevitable in this occupational sector’. Is it just bad luck or, is it more, much more than that? 

Covid 19 and the employment and personal issues surround the pandemic are valid reasons learners may leave but also could become a ‘go to’ excuse for many. Collecting, analysing and using robust detailed qualitative and quantitative data will be critical in helping and use of data to performance manage provision and identify potential early leavers. 

So who’s responsibility is retention? Is it down to recruitment, is it dependant on the employers and/or skills tutor or is it a management issue?

Retention should be a priority action at all levels and a key performance indicator. Without a clear and well thought out retention strategy how will you be able to ensure as many of your learners as possible are retained on the programme?

I would like to share with you a useful resource that is designed to help providers with retention. Follow this link to download ‘50 Ways to retain learners’. fin 50-WAYS  Using this resource, after reading through with your staff teams, identify which are the key issues that are impacting upon your provision, this may be different with national providers with regional differences. These regional differences will be important and can impact on retention in a number of ways.

Using data, consider who is at risk and what is holding these learners back from achieving and fulfilling their aspirations. Once you have identified the problems, then the next stage will be to develop your plan and actions and implement impactful improvement strategies – utilising data to measure impact.

Kerry Boffey, founder of Fellowship of Inspection Nominees (fin) & Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN

The Fellowship of Inspection Nominees (fin) are also offering the readers of FE NEWS and free webinar delivered by Kerry Boffey (FE adviser) and Peter Stacey (Former Inspection Manager) to look more closely at the use of data as part of the retention strategy and to consider the numerous causes and potential solutions, why learners may leave their training programme early.  Webinar 29th June 2pm – 2.45pm – to register your interest please follow this link. The webinar will also talk about a number of tested strategies and provide some useful tips for success pointers.

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