From education to employment

ESFA post-16: intervention and accountability

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


The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) allocates significant annual funding to providers of education and skills training for young people and adults. ESFA holds providers to account for their performance to ensure 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 forms the framework for rapid and decisive intervention in response to under-performance. This is now supplemented by intervention policy in colleges and expansion of the Further Education Commissioner role published in November 2017.

Intervention triggers

ESFA will formally intervene when it has evidence of under-performance. This may include escalating cases for assessment by the Further Education Commissioner.

Where a provider of education or training is under-performing, the ESFA will implement the DfE policy in line with its contracts and funding agreements.

We adopt 2 triggers in identifying educational under-performance:

  • an overall inadequate Ofsted judgement (or in the case of a school sixth-form, or an academy sixth-form a separate inadequate Ofsted judgement for the sixth-form provision)
  • performance below National Minimum Standards set each year

We adopt a further trigger in identifying financial under-performance:

  • inadequate financial health and/or control, as determined by ESFA in accordance with the criteria below

In addition, from November 2017, 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 override any information on this page where there are differences.

Ofsted judgement

Sixth-form and further education colleges

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.

ESFA will issue a Notice to Improve where a college receives an inadequate Ofsted judgement, setting out conditions that the college must meet in a time bound period in order to receive continued funding. All Notices will be published on the colleges and higher education institutions notices to improve page on GOV.UK.

Independent learning providers (ILPs)

Where an ILP receives an inadequate Ofsted judgement, ESFA will typically terminate the contract and seek a better provider, subject to protecting the interests of learners.

Apprenticeship training providers

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.

New, direct funded, apprenticeship providers

Ofsted has updated its Inspection Handbook in a number of areas including the monitoring visits to new, directly funded apprenticeship providers. These visits will make a progress judgement of insufficient, reasonable or significant progress. These providers are mainly apprenticeship only providers but Ofsted is also judging the progress of adult learning at new apprenticeship providers on monitoring visits where such provision is encountered.

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 write advising that, with immediate effect, the provider:

  • must not start any new apprentices
  • can continue to deliver training to existing apprentices but must inform all of the existing employers they are working with, and providers they operate as a sub-contractor to, about the Ofsted monitoring visit report
  • is prevented from working with new apprentices via an existing subcontracting arrangement or entering into a new subcontracting arrangement with another main provider or employer-provider on the register.

We will not remove the affected provider from the register.

In those new direct funded apprenticeship providers where adult provision is assessed as making insufficient progress we will set additional conditions of funding requiring improvement action particular to that case. The approach is different to the approach taken on apprenticeship provision because the nature of adult provision is classroom delivery of a relatively short duration. Placing a stop on new starts would effectively wind down the provision before a full inspection could take place. Where we have continuing concerns over quality, we will restrict access to growth through the performance management process.

National minimum standards

School and college accountability systems have been reformed to set higher expectations, and to make the system fairer, more ambitious, and more transparent. Further information on how the DfE is applying the minimum standards to the performance of schools and colleges can be found on the 16 to 18 minimum standards page published on GOV.UK. All colleges and ILPs that deliver apprenticeship (all age) and/or adult (19+) education and training provision are required to meet minimum standard thresholds using the qualification achievement rate (QAR) methodology. Those that fail to meet these standards will be subject to the ESFA’s intervention policy.

Financial health and control

Sixth-form and further education colleges

ESFA assess college financial health in line with Part 3 of the college financial planning handbook.

We assess financial control to be inadequate where one or more of the following exists:

  • qualified audit opinion on its financial statements
  • modified regularity report
  • qualified audit opinion on a funding audit
  • significant fraud
  • critical review of financial management and governance

Where a college has inadequate financial health and/or control, ESFA will write to the college to confirm the position and consider appropriate intervention activity with reference to the funding agreement and the most recent departmental policy. This may include an assessment by the FE Commissioner and/or the issue of a Financial Notice. All Notices will be published on the colleges and higher education institutions notices to improve page on GOV.UK.

Financial Notice to Improve – financial health

When ESFA issues a college with a Financial Notice to Improve (FNtI), the college will be required to improve its financial health. This may include the preparation and implementation of a financial recovery plan.

ESFA will determine when the college has made sufficient progress for the FNtI to be lifted based on a set of conditions included within the notice.

Financial Notice to Improve – financial control

It will be made clear to the college what needs to improve, and the action plan that a college has to produce will be used to monitor progress against the weaknesses identified. It is expected that a college will address all financial management and control weaknesses within a specified timescale.

ESFA will determine when the college has made sufficient progress for monitoring to cease and the notice lifted, based on a set of conditions included within the notice.

There are special arrangements for Financial Notices in cases of structural change and/or merger.

Independent learning providers

ESFA assess ILP financial health in line with the published methodology.

Where an ILP has inadequate financial health, ESFA will consider each case on its merits but reserves the right to take action in accordance with the contract.

Early intervention for colleges

ESFA has issued separate information on the approach to managing risk in colleges. We will work with colleges to facilitate swift mitigating actions that focus on ensuring a return to sound financial resilience and, where required, improvement in quality. Our aim is to lower the risk of a college falling into the scope of formal intervention measures and achieve a rapid turnaround at a lower cost to public funds, while maintaining high quality learning delivery to students, adult learners and employers. Our approach acts alongside the enhanced role of the Further Education Commissioner in engaging with colleges earlier to support more rapid improvement.

Published 23 June 2014
Last updated 7 November 2018 + show all updates

  1. A new section called New, direct funded, apprenticeship providers has been added.
  2. The page has been updated to include policy changes from November.
  3. General update to page to reflect ESFA.
  4. Updated information has been added.
  5. Financial health and control trigger updated
  6. Updated information added on new performance measures from 2016
  7. First published.


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