ESFA Funding: The Secret Side of Audit

Posted by Carla Martinho

At the 2023 FE Week Annual Apprenticeships Conference, Carla Martinho, Tribal’s Head of Apprenticeships Data Management, delivered a workshop about ESFA Funding assurance – the secret side of audit. In this blog, find out more about what the “secret” is and how it might impact you.

The real purpose of audit

Most apprenticeships providers are aware that when auditors visit, they will be looking at a sample list of learner files to check for compliance with the funding rules. Whilst they’re checking that your specific sample learner files are correct and support your claims, what they are actually doing is testing that your processes and controls are in place to support compliant delivery not just for those files but consistently across all your (future) funding claims. That’s the overriding purpose of audit.

As well as the file checks, they also ask apprenticeships providers who haven’t previously been audited to complete a questionnaire about your processes and controls.

Part of the purpose of the questionnaire is also to test that organisations on the Register of Apprenticeship Providers have in place the infrastructure and controls they detailed in their application to the Register.

Why is this bit a “secret”?

This part of audit is less frequently talked about because you won’t be subject to clawback based on your responses and it doesn’t impact your 5% error rate threshold – but is still important.

What are they looking for?

The questionnaire has over 30 questions, most of which require providers to give a two-part answer, describing the process and controls they have in place for each of the individual compliance areas. For example, “b) Describe the processes and controls in place to ensure when a learner completes, leaves or transfers from the programme, the learning actual end date is correctly recorded on the ILR and agrees with the underlying records”.

What’s the difference between a process and a control?

Most providers focus on getting the data in to the ILR via their student management system (the process) but far fewer invest effort in checking that the data they have entered is correct and supported by evidence (the control).

A process is what you do; a control is how you check that what you did was correct. If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions below, this indicates that you need to improve your controls.*

  • Do you have second line checks in place when submitting your ILR?
  • Do you rely on a single individual in the team who holds the knowledge to submit an error-free ILR without any contingency plans for unplanned absence?
  • Can you identify who is responsible in your organisation using PDSATs and ESFA data/funding reports to identify any potential issues; who is responsible for actioning any issues and who is responsible for making sure they have been actioned and closed off? (Here’s a hint – they probably shouldn’t be the same person for all three activities).

How can I prepare for this part of audit?

As an organisation, go through the apprenticeship funding rules and ask yourselves what your process is to comply with each rule – and then what the controls are on that process.

*If you answered ‘no’ to any of the questions above and you want to:

  • Speak to our Data Management Services team about support with your controls.
  • Find out more about the Process and Controls Questionnaire and hear a recording of Carla’s full AAC workshop click here.
  • Discover how Maytas can streamline the day-to-day administration of training, reduce administration costs and improving efficiency, manage courses, monitor learner success rates and more ...