Understanding hard close and what it means to training providers


We know the academic year end can be difficult for training providers because it incorporates R14 – also known as the hard close. But what is it, why is it crucial, and how can training providers get it right?

The academic year runs from August to July. As a training provider, you will submit your Individualised Learner Record (ILR) every month to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). The ILR record:

  • Is submitted for every month on the fourth working day of the following month
  • Runs annually: R1 and R13 are submitted in September; R2 and R14 are in October
  • Is submitted retrospectively focusing on learner data for the previous month

Data submitted will include important information, such as how many learners have completed your course, their results, any withdrawals or breaks in learning, and how many new learners you have onboarded. This data will have an impact on your overall statistics, so it’s important to get it right.

What is R14 (hard close)?

R14 is the final ILR submission of the academic year. Training providers are given two extra months in September (R13) and October (R14) to ensure data for the previous year is completely up to date and correct.

However, you will also need to submit data in these months for the current year. So, in September 2022 you would submit:

  1. 6th September: R1 – data for August 2022-23
  2. 14th September: R13 – submit data for 2021-22

And on the fourth working day in October 2022 you would submit:

  1. 6th October: R2 – data for September 2022-23
  2. 20th October: R14 – your final submission for the year 2021-22*

*Data Collection Dates for the 2021 to 2022 ILR

Each academic year begins in August but, because data is submitted retrospectively for the year before, you will need to submit your R12 on the fourth working day in August and then both your R1 and your R13 in September.

R14 is commonly known as the hard close, because once the final deadline date has passed, no changes can be made to the previous year’s data. Missing the deadline or submitting incorrect data can have a catastrophic impact on training providers – but why?

Why is hard close so crucial to training providers?

The data you submit is the foundation the ESFA uses to make important decisions about the future of your training facility and its learners.

Matt Wood, Product Owner at Bud, has years of experience managing compliance for international training providers. He explains:

“The main purpose of hard close is to ensure the ESFA’s financial reconciliation data is accurate at academic year end. They will analyse provider’s data and make sure that all the money that’s paid in the year is accurate.

“For some providers, if they cannot provide the correct supporting evidence, it could appear that they’ve been overpaid by the ESFA throughout the year, and they could have funds clawed back. It could also go the other way and mean that providers have been underpaid throughout the year, in which case the ESFA will pay extra. That financial reconciliation piece is probably the biggest aspect of the final close in the year,” he said.

The ESFA conducts its financial returns, visits and audits based on your ILR data. But it is not the only body that uses ILR data in its decision making.

Ofsted’s inspections are also based on this data, and both ESFA and Ofsted will expect your paperwork to match the data in your ILR returns.

Put simply, Matt says, “making sure that your data is correct, especially when it comes to hard close, will ensure that you’ve got a better chance of having successful audits and not having future funds clawed back by the ESFA”.

Read more: How to better prepare for R14

As well as auditing, the ESFA will use your ILR data to demonstrate:

  • Quality measures: Your Qualification Achievement Rates (QARs) demonstrate how successful you are as a training provider. QARs are accessible to learners, employers and other providers.
  • Future funding: If you’re not spending your funding allocation or performing against your contract measurables then this will be flagged in your ILR data, and you may lose out in next year’s budget.

How can we make the hard close a little… easier?

Making sure your learners get the support they need to perform well is the number one priority for all training providers. This involves managing busy caseloads and maintaining high standards – which doesn’t leave much time for keeping on top of data.

As a result, it’s no wonder that most training providers dread hard close. Without a robust, end-to-end system in place, it can be difficult to find, collate and submit all the data required.

That’s where Bud comes in. We provide a single source of truth for all training providers and their teams through our reporting suite. The dashboards allow you to:

  • Easily view data so that everyone in the team can access the most up-to-date information
  • Focus on priorities – e.g. where funding measurables are not being met
  • Notify your team instantly when a learner reaches a milestone or is falling behind, so you can take action quickly and stay on top of performance
  • Keep on top of learner documentation, such as qualifications and residency certificates, so no one can enrol with invalid information

Want to get back to focusing on your learners and making sure they succeed? Read more about how Bud can make hard close easier or book a Bud demo now.