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How Rochdale Council became a Top 100 Ap…

Oct 22, 2021 / Featured Voices

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ESFA Contract Management

A flurry of articles over recent weeks on contract management, almost certainly anticipating the forthcoming Dame Mary Ney’s report are all interesting and make valid observations and suggestions. These points have been raised many times before, they are not new, but the recipient was not and still is not listening.

There is no doubt that the mechanisms used by the ESFA for contract management are not fit for purpose, indeed they never have been for the majority of providers in the sector, even in the days of the FEFC and beyond, spanning some nearly 30 years now. The exceptions to this were the College sector and those 200 or so organisations that fell within the confines of the National Contract Unit (NCS) or equivalent as time passed.

But the consequences of poor oversight has got progressively worse over the past 5 years or so, too many surprises and casualties and one common feature – the ESFA.

I have been fortunate enough to also work as a Chair in the MAT sector and believe me the contract management is no better, indeed the risks are higher and the oversight simply dreadful. 

So is it not surprising we have the expanded FE Commissioner who really does ride into town after the horse has truly bolted from the stable door and at what significant cost to the tax payer and ultimately the learners because that money could go into supporting our learners.

Contract management is not a ‘fireside chat’, it is part of the overall Governance framework of an organisation. Supportive Challenge is the key to this but a starting point is it MUST happen. 

As a group of practitioners, we all have good and bad experiences of contract management so we are going to start a debate to influence change. Contract management must start with RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT – a named person who understands your industry and gets to know your business – you would not have an EPA assessor who was not industry qualified would you!

Contract management must also be in real time, looking at issues, as they happen now – not 18 months in the past. A review of annual accounts from a desk in Coventry, 12 months or more after the year end tells you absolutely nothing, but we rely on our ‘300 score’ to assess the health of each and every provider. The same applies to achievement rates – I will be looking with interest what they will be shortly for the expansion of L&M programmes after the levy was introduced !

I was subject to contract management as a provider for over 20 years, excellent when the NCS and Large Providers Unit was in operation but dreadful after that. The only minutes kept were the ones we maintained (which will come in particularly useful in the next 12 months !), the actions for the ESFA were never taken forward and frankly the meetings descended into a farce with little talk about business – in the end, I stopped going !

The situation was no better at the MAT, the ESFA never asked to see me as Chair – it was a £100m business we were in control off (not the CEO) and the only correspondence I ever got was the annual letter from the CEO of the ESFA telling me I may be paying the CEO more than the Prime Minister (we weren’t by the way). They did not even send me correspondence directly so was reliant on the MAT to forward the information to me – great that!

Therefore, let us start a debate and formulate our own model for contract management with our regulators. They can choose to ignore the results of it but it does not stop us applying the principles ourselves, starting with taking minutes and actions with every interaction with them – you never know when you might need them in the future.

Sarah Marples, MD of 

To join the debate in the forum click here

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Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

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Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

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Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

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FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

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We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

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