The Real Stories Behind Compliance

Posted by Carla Martinho

Tribal is sponsoring the Quality Professional Awards, including the Compliance Team of the Year Award. We know that Quality and Compliance go hand in hand and it’s a space we work in everyday with our customers, so we asked our Head of Data Management Services to tell us about the real story behind compliance.  

“So what do you do?” The question I dread being asked at social events because outside of education, no one knows about funding data compliance. Not to mention that as soon as they hear the word data most people switch off because data is boring! 

But it’s not really – data isn’t just information, it can tell stories about people (just ask Meta, Google, Amazon and all those apps with targeted ads).  

I’ve been involved with learner data for several years now and think that I have seen most of humanity illustrated in the data I’ve worked with.  

The breaks in learning that break your heart: the apprentices who take time out because of a serious illness or accident, or to support their partner or dependants through the same; extended compassionate leave or at the other end of the spectrum, maternity leave.  

Changes of personal details can be just as fascinating: learners who change their name because of civil partnerships or marriage; who change their declared ethnicity because they have researched their background or just had a shift in perspective on what their identity means to them.  

In the many years working with learner data I have had to process learner gender changes through the ILR and several learners who have changed their declared prior learning because they were too creative on their CV when applying for an apprenticeship!   

As for learner achievements, we let out a cheer in my team when a test-phobic apprentice passed her level 2 maths at the fourth attempt. Tracking progression of learners with low prior levels of attainment from one course to another or recording positive outcomes for Adult Community learners for whom the return to learning was a huge personal achievement, all tell a story about those learners’ lives. 

Just as data can tell stories about individual learners, it also speaks volumes to Ofsted inspectors and ESFA auditors about your organisation – and before they have even set foot on site.  

The obvious ones are achievement rates and apprentice and employer satisfaction rates, but it’s when you drill down that the story starts to get more interesting. You may have relatively low achievement rates but if that’s because you proactively recruit learners with a low level of prior achievement, that’s a great outcome for your learners and will stand you in good stead with inspectors – as long as you have the data to prove it.  I’d say the change in Ofsted since the EIF isn’t that they’re less data-driven: it’s that they are interested in the stories that your data tells about your provision.  

The data you don’t collect is just as telling about your organisation. A few years ago, Ofsted commented about one apprenticeship provider that “At the time of inspection there were no apprentices who had declared a learning difficulty and/or disability.” This failure to collect this data about apprentices was an illustration of the provider’s lack of understanding of their apprentices and their needs and no coincidence that they received a grade 4 inspection judgement.  

Similarly, when you process your data can also tell auditors and the ESFA about your organisation. If you process your data months after the actual activity takes place or make lots of major changes in the lead up to the hard close of the funding year, this can indicate a lack of controls in place and might flag you as a high-risk provider who needs a visit from the audit team. 

Ultimately using data well can be critical to the success of a learning provider – and their learners. So, the next time someone says to you “it’s just data”, make sure that you tell them the real story! 

To find out more about how Tribal’s Data Management Service can help you with everything from funding claims to subcontracting, book a call with Carla to find out more.


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