Skills Funding Agency Course Directory Service

The Course Directory Service is a comprehensive cataloguing system which features a central portal developed and hosted by Tribal. Provider organisations use the portal to enter their records relating to the education and training courses that they offer and update our central data warehouse in order that third parties can access and act on that information. To ensure that data quality was continually improved, Tribal set up a Quality Assurance team to review the timeliness and quality of the data being uploaded by providers. 


Meeting the requirement

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department of Education to provide funding for skills training for further education in England, supporting over 1,000 colleges, private training providers, and employers with £3.7 billion of funding each year. The SFA had been running a digital cataloguing type service for adult education, providing the public with detailed information from around 1000 learning providers on the education and training courses available across the country.

SFA contracted Tribal to radically overhaul the service in order to improve efficiency and data accuracy while driving down cost.  The legacy service that had been used to catalogue courses for the previous ten years was in need of significant improvement, and SFA required a high quality, secure, robust and easy-to-use solution with a low total cost of ownership.


The Solution

The Course Directory Service contains hundreds of thousands of detailed records related to education and training course provision;  we designed and implemented a modernised solution utilising a highly sophisticated data validation service to minimise the potential for incorrect or duplicated entries.

In addition to providing a simple and easy to use provider portal for data uploads, we were able to meet SFA’s key requirement to improve efficiencies and thereby drive down costs.  We achieved this by completely redesigning the solution architecture.  This involved transitioning the database infrastructure from ORACLE to Microsoft SQL Server, moving away from the legacy Java platform to .NET, and developing an API that would talk directly to the National Careers Service (NCS) website where public searches for education and training opportunities were being made.

As a result of Tribal transforming the solution design, costs were almost halved and SFA were able to save more money because use of our new API meant that they could remove another expensive third party ORACLE database that was previously used by the NCS website to copy the source data every night.

To improve data quality we set up a Quality Assurance team to review the timeliness and quality of the data being uploaded by providers.  This team proactively monitors data uploads from providers using automated dashboards designed by Tribal to provide clear and easy to understand RAG (red/amber/green) exception reports.  These reports are used by our Quality Assurance team to provide direct support to providers, checking the quality of their data and helping them tackle underlying issues that they may be experiencing in maintaining its accuracy.  

To support the Government’s Open Data Strategy, we made a major improvement to the service by implementing open data standards so that the database can be consumed by third party organisations who may wish to use this data to support the delivery of other related services.  This will help to drive choice for consumers while increasing the accountability of providers; the Government views these factors as key to improving the quality of education and training on offer, and the learning outcomes that are achieved.

“Tribal’s deployment of the Course Directory Service was so successful that even before the first year of service was complete, we were contracted to expand the scale of the service from taking data from 1000 universities, further education colleges and training providers to include the 3300+ schools and sixth form colleges delivering ‘A’ Level courses”

said Darren Lloyd, Tribal Business Development Manager, Software Solutions


We have recently been contracted by the Digital Apprenticeship Service to further expand the Course Directory Service.  We are now adding Apprenticeship Training Providers to the service together with the Apprenticeship Standards that they are delivering.  We had designed our solution with scalability in mind from the outset which has allowed us to quickly quadruple the scope of the service to accommodate the new providers and the courses that they deliver.


“Tribal successfully implemented service improvement without disruption while simplifying and improving processes. We trusted that Tribal would be capable of designing and implementing a nationally hosted managed service and they delivered. We successfully transitioned from a long-established way of working to a transformed solution, which was achieved within 4 months through the utilisation of a highly experienced team under excellent project management by Tribal”

said Dan Richardson, National Careers Service Manager, Skills Funding Agency


Competencies demonstrated

Success in driving up data quality; since the start of the project the percentage of Providers with data rated as ‘very good’ has increased from 6% to 42%, we have reduced the percentage of Providers with poor data from 12.8% to 0.98% and, in 2016, achieved an all-time high data quality average score of 86.45.%.

Successful transition from a long established way of working to a transformed solution achieved within 4 months

Service improvement without disruption while simplifying and improving processes

Capability to successfully deliver large scale migration

Cost minimisation through systems architecture that utilises the best technologies available, and through our experience and organisation in being able to deliver outsourced support services to the education and training sector

Capability in delivering a national hosted managed service and expanding it four fold over a short timeframe

Sophisticated ETL (extract, transform and load) and MS-SQL based data management processes

Proactive support and quality assurance capability to help 4000+ organisations to manage data quality

Education and training providers are all able to supply and edit their own data using a private and secure Tribal portal with bulk upload facility

High service availability as we deliver to a 99.5% availability SLA

Information security compliance to BIL2 (we have BIL3 experience on other projects with more sensitive data issues)

Supporting a government agency in delivering online guidance, public information and signposting services.



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