Make hard close less hectic: How to better prepare for R14


Hard close is always a difficult time of year for training providers. So what can you do to prepare in advance? We brought in the experts to find out.

R14 (also known as hard close) is vital for ensuring training providers receive the right funding. However, it can be incredibly stressful for those in ops roles tasked with reconciling a year’s worth of data – all while maintaining progress reviews and keeping learner engagement high.

Luckily, there are lots of ways you can prepare for hard close and stay organised when the time comes.

Four ways to be better prepared for hard close

Matt Wood, Product Owner at Bud, knows ESFA requirements inside out – and exactly where providers are missing a trick.

He shared some valuable insights in our webinar on maximising success rates during hard close. Here are his top four tips:

1. Make hard close part of a continual process

While hard close, R14, takes place in October, it’s something that should be on your mind all year round.

Matt sees it as a continual process from R1 right through to R14. Rather than scrambling to get things organised at year end, make sure every return is accurate each month and that you’re backing them up with evidence captured in your quality and compliance systems.

2. Use an end-to-end system

As Matt explained, the best way to guard against problems at R14 is to use an end-to-end system that ensures all evidence required for compliance is automatically captured. If your systems and processes are disjointed, that’s when you’ll encounter problems.

“If the systems you use are not joined-up, progress reviews might not get submitted or passed on to the right person. The same thing can happen for notification of withdrawals or breaks in learning or completions. If you don’t pass that on to the right person and that doesn’t go into your Individualised Learning Record (ILR), you could have a problem when it comes to payments,” he said.

“For example, let’s say you have a learner starting in July, but you miss a deadline to put that learner on and don’t do it until after hard close. You could find yourself missing that first July payment. The ESFA is pretty strict about it as well – if you miss it, you miss it.”

Even with accurate data from R1 to R13, you’re still going to have to reconcile it all for hard close. But if you’re using an end-to-end platform, such as Bud, you’ll be in a much better position and R14 should simply feel like preparing for any other month.

Watch out for flexible platforms

Flexible platforms may seem attractive initially, but there’s a much greater risk of data being inaccurate, duplicated or missing altogether. If you want true peace of mind, it’s best to choose a platform that has been built to drive compliance.

3. Understand your ESFA reports

You can also get a headstart on potential errors by checking your ESFA reports throughout the year.

When you submit your return to the ESFA, you’ll receive a Rule Violation report which lists errors and warnings. It’s a way for the ESFA to flag up existing or potential problems with your data.

Matt explains that the ESFA errors can be serious – for example, funding might be stopped because a learner was not correctly validated at enrolment. Warnings, on the other hand, are less strict. These are the ESFA advising you to resolve an issue, but there’s no immediate risk to funding.

“The best piece of advice I can give is to understand those reports. Work on your errors and warnings on a monthly basis, and don’t let them stack up. If you’ve got hundreds or thousands of learners, then it can become a very long and difficult report to digest by the time R14 comes around. If you’re going through them regularly throughout the year, then you should be in a good position,” he said.

4. Access peer-to-peer support

Finally, remember you’re not alone. There’s plenty of peer-to-peer support available if you’re worried about hard close or want some questions answered.

The ESFA FE Communities is the best place to start. It has a strong network of compliance experts who are happy to help – post a question and you’ll usually get a reply back within a couple of days.

Work smarter, not harder

Remember that even with the best preparation, life can get in the way and push timelines back unexpectedly. When hard close comes around, don’t leave things to the last minute.

Ruth Johnson spent six years as a trainer and area manager at Lifetime Training, before joining Bud in 2019. There are two things that always helped her through hard close: data visibility and clearly prioritised tasks.

“As an assessor or trainer during this period, it’s important to be able to see all the metrics and have the goals learners need to achieve. Avoid getting distracted by white noise – know your priorities. That will help you stay calm and in control of your caseload,” she said.

Ruth also recommends trying to work smarter, not harder. A lot of the challenges during the hard close period come down to time management, and the systems in place, it’s common for progress reviews or one-to-ones to get pushed back. Try to balance your caseload so you’re putting aside time for keeping your learners engaged and motivated.

“Really try to keep learners engaged and on track. Then, pull it all together so you know exactly where you are in terms of your caseload and those successful outcomes like completions,” Ruth added.

Take the “hard” out of hard close with Bud

Bud’s apprenticeship and training management software was built to drive compliance, so you can go into hard close feeling confident that all your data is accurate and up to date.

With Bud:

  • Evidence is automatically captured at each stage in the learner journey
  • Data compiled by trainers is easily stored and readily available for monthly returns
  • Our reporting suite gives you full visibility over your data 24/7
  • Touchpoints ensure Additional Learning Support (ALS) evidence is robust all year round

Read more about how Bud can make hard close easier or book a Bud demo now.