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

Due to the coronavirus lockdown in place, the ESFA has suspended its routine audit schedule – but they can still complete desktop reviews at any time. When we get back to ‘normal’, the ESFA will also audit data sets from the lockdown period, so providers need to make sure they stay compliant and know what to expect when they are audited.

How are providers monitored?

The ESFA uses different auditing methods to monitor providers throughout the year – from remote desktop reviews to full 5-day onsite assurance reviews. The ESFA audits providers to complete data checks and individual learner checks. If they find any irregularities, they can ask to audit your entire learner population, recover apprenticeship funding or even trigger a criminal investigation, so staying compliant is really important.

Desktop reviews

The ESFA completes remote desktop reviews of data submitted by providers in the ILR every month. They can complete a desktop review at any time and ask you to explain any irregularities – things like a change in end dates, withdrawing a large amount of learners on the same day, or claiming learning support for a proportionately large number of learners. These types of irregularities can impact the distribution of funds, and will raise a red flag for the ESFA.

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

When you think of ESFA audits, you’re probably imagining an assurance review – a 5-day onsite audit of learner data. Providers are given 2-4 weeks’ notice before the review, and then 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.

You’re sampled on the size of your learner population and funding stream. There’s a minimum sample size of 30 – so if you have 30 learners or less, 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. Making sure the data in every learner’s ILR, evidence pack and eportfolio is congruent and compliant is really important for ESFA audit.

The ESFA will also use a PDSAT (Provider Data Self-Awareness Toolkit) software to test the integrity of ILR data. You can download and use the software yourself to see what auditors will find when they come to you – like a mock audit.

Provider questionnaire

All providers are now also required to complete a provider questionnaire. The ESFA will cross-reference your answers to the questionnaire with evidence in your evidence pack, so you have to be 100% accurate. Are start and completion dates recorded accurately in the ILR, commitment statement and apprenticeship agreement? Do you have evidence to prove how you’ve met the 20% off-the-job minimum requirement? Have you 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 that result in 100% auditing.

Download list


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