Take the 'hard' out of hard close

What Bud can do to help ensure that this year’s submissions don't feel quite so complicated.

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How Bud takes the ‘hard’ out of hard close


R14, also known as ‘hard close’. A term that can fill training providers with a sense of dread. While its existence is vital for ensuring a provider is appropriately funded, its requirements, on the other hand, can weigh heavily on those who are facing difficulty in getting their ducks in a row. 

This is an understandable problem to have, of course, as much of the required evidence is generated by the trainer who’s natural focus is on guiding learners towards passing their end point assessment. 

Unfortunately, in a ‘normal’ academic year this can mean gaps in evidence. But with the disruption that Covid-19 has been causing since March 2020, with learners on breaks in learning and trainers on furlough, this R14 is set to be more challenging than most. 

But let’s say you’re new to the whole process and have yet to come across the likes of hard closing. What is it? And more importantly, what can Bud do to help ensure that this year’s submissions don’t feel quite so complicated? 


What is hard close?


R14 is the 14th individualised learner record (ILR) return of the year. It marks a cut off point after which providers cannot alter their data for the previous year. This is the data that will form the basis for the ESFA’s financial returns, visits and audits, and it will also drive Ofsted inspections. 

Crucially, after R14, the ESFA will be checking to see whether they have overpaid, or underpaid, your organisation.  

This is a problem that can come back to haunt providers, since ESFA audits conducted years after a hard close can still uncover long forgotten discrepancies in a provider’s data. In this scenario, a provider is required to return funding given to them several financial years back, a situation that wreaks havoc on their finances and future forecasts. 

The consequences of incorrect or incomplete data go beyond the financial, however.  

Even before you reach R14, your Qualification Achievement Rates (QARs) will be painting a picture of your learner success rates and withdrawals, not just to the ESFA, but also to learners, employers and even other providers. It’s the proof that you’re as good as you say you are, and if the data’s missing or incorrect after R14, you’ll lose the chance to show it.  


What are the challenges?


Leading up to R14, it takes a full team effort to get all student records in place as well as make sure the information they contain is correct. Especially when failure to do so risks not only the loss of a year’s worth of funding but also the possibility of paying back any funding that had been previously assigned to you as well.  

This would be challenging at the best of times. But if you’re a trainer with a large caseload, managing disengaged learners, keeping on top of assessments and maintaining a high standard of delivery – R14 is the last hurdle in a long line of obstacles. It’s tough to prioritise, let alone keep track of what data will matter most for success rates, funding outcomes and key metrics. 

Then for operations managers, it’s easy for the period leading up to R14 to feel chaotic. Especially once you add in the unique difficulties of a pandemic. With learners returning from breaks or illness, additional learning support (ALS) that needs to be delivered, and new learners being onboarded remotely, evidencing compliance and progression to a deadline is a tall order.  

This problem is further exacerbated when you factor in communication issues that are usually associated with interdepartmental relations. Even if all goes to plan, the evidence might be difficult to collate. Particularly for businesses that still adhere to a paper based filing system.  

Increasingly, the expectation is that the ops manager should always have the information they need – correct data, at that – and be able to give it at any time. This is made much easier when the data is visible to ops managers in a single joined up system, which presents a single source of truth.  


Problems in the pipeline


To ensure that R14 doesn’t trip you up, it’s best to tread carefully the whole year through.  

Understanding ILR validation rules and error reports can give you insight into your data and what the ESFA is looking for. What you learn will help you to comb through your data for discrepancies or inconsistencies, and the more regularly you can do this, the better. 

Once R13 and R14 begin, your organisation’s attention will be divided between the previous academic year and the beginning of the new one. Once you reach hard close, you have ILR returns occurring almost on top of one another – a mere two weeks apart. So the more data you can check over before this bottleneck, the more manageable your work will be. 

Ultimately, as our Funding and Compliance Manager, Matt Wood says:

“If your data’s good throughout the year, it’ll be good at R14. Obviously, it’s a stressful period and you’ve still got to go back and do that reconciliation piece at the end of the year, but you’ll be in a much better position.” 


How can we help?


So, what can we offer to make this whole endeavour easier?  

Well, Bud’s digital capabilities ensure that all data compiled by trainers is easily stored and readily available for monthly returns. When it comes to ALS, too, Bud’s touchpoints ensure the evidence there is robust all year round.  

Bud’s dashboard makes all the information you need visible, so trainers and ops managers can quickly prioritise what needs to be done. The system keeps you notified when circumstances change with their learners - i.e. if they’re falling behind throughout the course – so you can take timely action. 

What’s more, since Bud relies on a completely digital interface, learners cannot progress to enrolment without first submitting all necessary material required, such as qualifications and residency certificates. This process circumvents any possibility of invalid documentation, a situation that can otherwise come back to haunt you as R14 closes in.  

Ruth Johnson, Bud’s Business Development Manager, says:

“If I’d had a system like Bud when I was a trainer or an ops manager, my life would have been so much easier… it enables trainers to do the right thing at the right time, every time, so they can concentrate on the learner.” 

Overall, Bud is here to help ease the burdens put on providers each year as they face R14, giving time back to the trainers and allowing them room to focus their attention on learner engagement. Let our system worry about R14 for you and free you up to help support those who are working towards a brighter career and future. 

For a closer look at the platform feel free to check out Bud’s case studies

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