CIF services – Questions and Answers

How’s, What’s and Why’s? 

How does a trust determine whether their school and project meets the ESFA’s qualifying Condition Improvement Fund criteria?
  • Any academy trust with up to 5 schools/3,000 pupils are eligible to submit 2 bids per school.
  • The ESFA publish guidance that highlights their hierarchy of project needs and indicates which the type of projects that are prioritised for funding
  • The fund is aimed at ensuring that a school’s built environment and its teaching and learning spaces are safe, warm and dry.
  • The volume of applications outstrips the number of awards by a ratio of circa 3:1 – so only those submissions that meet the funding criteria and evidence the greatest and most urgent of need will be funded.

How much does it cost to prepare and submit a CIF bid?

  • CIF bid consultants and their supply chain work on a no win, no fee arrangement, with their professional fees being recovered through the ESFA’s funding award if the bid is successful.
  • The specialised and time-consuming nature of CIF bid and project management is best delivered through experienced consultants, increasing the schools’ chances of success and ensuring that your time is not diverted away from school operations
  • The school can contribute to the success of the bid by providing supporting.condition, compliance and expenditure data and evidence of project need and by facilitating access for surveys and collection of evidence to support the application
  • The Project Cost section which is weighted at 25% of the overall bid marks invites schools to make a financial contribution. Crucially, the scale of contribution has a significant impact on the chances of funding success.

What does the process entail?

  • Bid preparation begins with a one-to-one meeting with the school, to discuss the project need and understand in detail the impact that this has on the school. Existing school information is collected such as floor plans, condition, compliance, data and expenditure records.
  • Depending on the quality of data and evidence held by the school, further targeted surveys may be required to better understand, quantify and demonstrate the project need and develop an appropriate specification. 
  • Building condition and specialist surveys are co-ordinated by the CIF consultant to ensure that the requisite information is captured to support the bid.  
  • Bid preparation includes a robust pre-tendering exercise to provide trustees with visibility of project costs, ahead of their sign off for the investment.
  • The bid is prepared and submitted in line with ESFA guidance and by the CIF deadline, traditionally in mid-December. 
  • Schools are provided with adequate time to review the quality and content of the bid prior to its submission. 

What can I learn from the scores and feedback as to why the bid was unsuccessful?

The ESFA publish the outcome of all CIF bids in the preceding year, typically April-May, along with the allocated scores and feedback on each of the 3 sections of each bid to every school. Marks are allocated and weighted as follows; 
  • Project Need: marked out of 20 and weighted at 60% of the overall award
  • Project Cost: marked out of 15 and weighted at 25% of the overall award
  • Project Planning: marked out of 15 and weighted at 15% of the overall award

Typical reasons for unsuccessful bids include; 

  • Insufficient financial contribution made towards project costs by the school 
  • Lack of evidence or insufficient detail to demonstrate Project Need 
  • Poor market testing processes or submission of rates in excess of the ESFA’s benchmark costs 
  • Non-specific or generic risk assessments and options appraisals, resulting in an unsatisfactory project planning response

Am I contractually tied to the last CIF management consultant I engaged?

  • Unless you have signed a specific contract, you are free to engage a new/ different CIF consultant each year. You can also engage multiple consultants to bid different projects each year on your behalf.
  • The scores and EFSA evaluator’s feedback provide a fair and transparent insight into why previous submissions were unsuccessful. 
  • If you are unsuccessful, you should ask to meet with your CIF consultant to go through the feedback in detail with them so that you can decide whether you remain confident in their services in respect of any future submissions.

What should we look for in a CIF consultant? 

  • As when engaging any professional, the consultant must be able to win your confidence and trust. 
  • You can determine their credentials and previous performance by asking for evidence of previous CIF successes and client references.
  • You should also seek to understand the level of time, commitment the consultant is prepared to invest in your bid(s). Questions that you can ask are;
    • Will I receive director level point of contact throughout the preparation, submission and delivery of the project?
    • How much time will the consultant spend understanding the specific needs of the school?
    • Is your bid just another one of hundreds of others being prepared that year?
    • Will your bid afforded the care and attention required to ensure it stands out from the thousands of other submissions?
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