The annual FE workforce data report collects data from across the FE sector.  For the first time in 2015/16, data was collected from independent training providers (ITPs) at staff contract level through the new SIR Data Insights service and this has provided additional insight into the make-up of ITPs compared to other types of provider.

Responses were received from around 8%[1] of all ITPs in England. 

Most of the ITPs supplying data are small, with fewer than 50 staff. ITPs in the sample have average staff numbers of just 90 compared with 583 in Colleges. There is very little other data available on the average size of ITPs, but this picture is consistent with the findings of a NIACE report in 2009 on 'The private training market in the UK'.  This report stated that, 'The market is very fragmented with many small businesses and freelancers.  Only 1 per cent of training providers have over 250 employees.'

Looking at the estimate of ITPs with direct contracts with SFA (now ESFA), small providers are classed as those with less than £1m in SFA funding and these make up 48% of the population of ITPs. On this basis, small providers were slightly under-represented in the 2015/16 workforce data sample size, making up 27% of ITP returns.  This illustrates the importance of all ITPs in receipt of ESFA funding submitting returns to ensure proper representation in the national evidence base.

The SIR data from 2015/16 also shows that the mix of staff in ITPs is different to other providers in the FE sector.  Notably, there are many more assessors and verifiers (14%) than in Colleges (4%).  These roles are connected to delivery of Apprenticeships.  Independent training providers deliver three-quarters of apprenticeships, according to AELP[2], so it is unsurprising that they employ more assessors and verifiers.

The provision of Apprenticeships has seen significant growth in recent years, particularly with government-backed schemes for encouraging SMEs to take apprentices. Overall, between 2011/12 and 2015/16, more than 2.4 million apprenticeship starts were made[3].

The 2015/16 FE workforce data report also shows that ITPs employ more apprentices as a proportion of their total workforce (4%) than colleges (1%). Given that the majority of ITPs would be classed as SMEs and SMEs have traditionally been slow to take on apprentices, this could be seen as surprising, but it indicates that ITPs clearly see the benefits of apprenticeships which they are selling in to customers. There has also been significant growth in the number of apprentices employed by ITPs with numbers up 67% on 2014/15.

To find out more about the 2015/16 data analysis, you can download the latest workforce data report, which has been recently published: Further Education Workforce Data for England, Analysis of the 2015-2016Staff Individualised Record (SIR) data, Frontier Economics, June 2017.

For more information on the national FE workforce data service, please visit the SIR Data Insights website at:

Please note, the data collection period for 2016/17 workforce data has now started. We are asking all providers funded through the Education and Skills Funding Agency to register and submit data.  Our friendly help desk staff are ready to assist by email: or phone: 0345 833 9040, so please get in contact.

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