Apprenticeship providers: what to expect in an ESFA audit

Find out the most common errors made by apprenticeship providers

Apprenticeship providers: what to expect in an ESFA audit

With lots of change underway, and potentially severe penalties for non-compliance, now’s the perfect time for a refresh on ESFA audits from OneFile.  

How are apprenticeship providers monitored?

The ESFA uses different auditing methods to monitor providers throughout the year – from remote desktop reviews to full 5-day on-site assurance reviews. During audits the ESFA checks data and compliance from both the apprenticeship provide and learners.  If auditors find any irregularities, they can ask to scrutinize your entire learner population. For serious breaches they can even recover apprenticeship funding or trigger a criminal investigation, so it’s vital you stay compliant 

Desktop reviews

Every month, apprenticeship providers submit data for Individualised Learning Records (ILRs). The ESFA can carry out remote desktop reviews of this information at any time and ask may you to explain any irregularities. These might include changing end dates, withdrawing a large number of learners on the same day, or claiming learning support for a high percentage of learners. These types of irregularity raise red flags for the ESFA and could impact the distribution of funds 

We will monitor these areas internally and will contact providers and employers if we identify any behaviour that indicates a potential funding risk.” 

Assurance reviews

Assurance reviews usually comprise a 5-day on-site audit of your learner data. You’ll be given between 2-4 weeks’ notice before the review, and then between 3-5 days to prepare access to a list of learner files – either printed records and evidence, or read-only access to a digital system. 

The ESFA will assess a sample of your learners – selected according to your population and funding stream.  There’s a minimum sample size of 30 – so if you have 30 learners or fewer, all your learners will get audited. There’s a maximum sample size of 50 – so if you have thousands of learners, only a small proportion will be audited in the initial sample. 

During the assurance review, auditors will work through a list of questions to find common errors. If they find a large issue, they’ll want to check your entire student population for the same error – this is called 100% auditing. Depending on your population size, this could take a long time, cause operational challenges for your staff, and result in a bad audit result. That’s why it’s a smart move to make sure the data in every learner’s ILR, evidence pack and e-portfolio is compliant and well organized ahead of an ESFA audit. 

The ESFA will also use software called a Provider Data Self-Awareness Toolkit (PDSAT) to test the integrity of ILR data. You can download this software and carry out a mock audit ahead of the real thing to identify and mitigate potential problems.  

Provider questionnaire

To add rigour to the process, all apprenticeship providers must also complete a questionnaire about how they manage their apprenticeships. It’s really important you answer this accurately, because the ESFA will cross-reference your answers with evidence in your evidence pack. 

So make sure you’re sorted on key areas, including:  

  • Your start and completion dates are recorded accurately in the ILR, commitment statement and apprenticeship agreement 
  • You have evidence to prove how you’ve met the 20% off-the-job minimum requirement 
  • You’ve completed a prior learning assessment and used it to adjust your funding drawdown 

Obviously, human error and issues can’t be avoided, but using an electronic ILR and initial assessment system will help you reduce irregularities and minimise the amount of 100% auditing at your centre. 

To help you avoid potential red flags at audit, we’ve created a list of the most common errors providers make which result in 100% auditing. 

Download list


This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
so this research is to be used at the reader's discretion. OneFile is not liable for any action taken based on this research.