Awarded to Create/Change

Start date: Monday 18 November 2019
Value: £849,391
Company size: SME
Department for Education (DfE)

National Retraining Scheme - Online Training Service Alpha- REPUBLISHED DUE TO TECHNICAL ISSUE

6 Incomplete applications

5 SME, 1 large

12 Completed applications

5 SME, 7 large

Important dates

Wednesday 21 August 2019
Deadline for asking questions
Wednesday 28 August 2019 at 11:59pm GMT
Closing date for applications
Wednesday 4 September 2019 at 11:59pm GMT


Summary of the work
Alpha phase of research, prototyping and user testing for proposed public-facing online training service.

Production of accurately-costed specification and working prototype(s) based on user needs.

Meeting GDS service standards and taking through GDS service assessment.

Multi-disciplinary team including digital, online learning design, pedagogy, learning technology and LMS expertise.

User recruitment.
Latest start date
Monday 11 November 2019
Expected contract length
16 weeks
North West England
Organisation the work is for
Department for Education (DfE)
Budget range
£650,000-850,000 (including VAT)

Bidders must fully detail their resources and charges at the proposal stage. It must include (but should not necessarily be limited to):

Day rates and number of days for Supplier personnel.

Cost for user research, including breakdown of any incentives being used to recruit users.

User research travel and subsistence in accordance with the DfE’s expenses policy.

Videography to produce a short research film as an output.

An itemised list of additional anticipated extra costs.

Suppliers should be clear about the VAT position of all costs. Both net and gross totals should be included for all costs.

About the work

Why the work is being done
DfE, delivering on a Government Manifesto commitment, is developing the NRS to equip individuals with the skills they need to secure better, more stable jobs, in the context of increasing automation, economic change and longer working lives. The NRS will drive adult retraining in England and must be live by the end of this Parliament. This will include an online training service, which we envision will encompass remote/online tutor support. The online training Alpha will focus on development of this service through research, prototyping and testing with users; focusing on learning design, tutor support and the learning platform.
Problem to be solved
Design a scalable online training service optimised for adults with low-medium skills, busy lives and responsibilities.
To solve this problem, the Alpha (through research, user testing, and prototype iteration) must determine the optimum:
• online learning design and pedagogical approach (e.g. approach towards collaborative learning, activities and multi-media)
• type, intensity and channels of tutor support in light of user needs and scalability
• features of the learning management system (LMS) and front-end platform (e.g. accessibility; layout and content)
This requires expertise in online learning design and pedagogy; LMS and learning technology in addition to skills associated with digital delivery.
Who the users are and what they need to do
Adults aged 24+, without degrees, in jobs at risk due to automation

I need:

Training, so that I can get the right skills for a job role I want

The right qualifications, so that I can apply for this job

A training course I can access around employment and family commitments so that I can complete the training

Space and time in my life, so that I can complete the training

Online training course to have real teachers on it (even if I only meet them online via chat or video)

Online platform that is easy to use and navigate
Early market engagement
We have held two market engagement events, with all outputs available here:

Please note that the presentation and outputs from these sessions should be considered indicative rather than definitive, and read in the context of the purpose of each event.

• 12th April; pre-market engagement event to gain early feedback on the emerging requirement.
• 24th July; supplier engagement and networking event to present requirement; gain feedback; and facilitate potential join-up between suppliers.

Outputs include notes of question and answer sessions for each event, which may be useful for potential bidders.
Any work that’s already been done
We have conducted previous Discovery work and limited testing during a broader Alpha, which have established user needs referenced above. We have also commissioned two formal studies into online learning:

Initial Discovery identified user needs for training to fit with users’ lifestyles; and for online tutor support. It also provided analysis of the online learning market. A second, broader Discovery expanded on employer needs for the wider NRS.

Limited user testing during a broader Alpha highlighted the need for users to understand the benefits of online learning tutor support before they would use it in practice.
Existing team
The online training Alpha team will include 2-3 DfE staff (Civil Servants), experienced in policy development, familiar with agile methodologies and product ownership. This will include a lead and associate product owner, and user researcher.
There is a large programme team including a number of mixed client/supplier teams for NRS Services with whom the Online training Alpha team need to interface.

There will also be a senior programme level service leadership team, which will be a mixture of permanent DfE staff, and contractors experienced in shipping services using agile methodologies.
Current phase

Work setup

Address where the work will take place
Manchester (DfE offices). It will also be necessary to engage and collaborate with colleagues in other DfE locations (London, in particular) and it is a requirement for user research and testing to take place in a number of different locations.
Working arrangements
The team must work according to agile methodology, GDS Service Manual and Service Standards. They must work collaboratively and invest time in knowledge-sharing and coaching to increase DfE capability.

The supplier must primarily be co-located with the existing team in DfE’s Manchester office. We work Mon-Fri, usual office hours. Occasional travel to other sites will be required for collaborative working, user research and testing.

Experts in online learning design and pedagogy; Learning Management Systems and learning technology must work as part of the embedded team. We strongly encourage joint working (through subcontracting or consortia arrangements) to deliver these skills.
Security clearance
Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) clearance is required for all team members before the contract starts. We will consider suppliers that currently do not have security clearance and will provide support to gain clearance before commencement. The supplier will also need to be compliant with DfE's Departmental Security Standards.

Additional information

Additional terms and conditions
Additional Terms and Conditions are available at the link below:

The above link also includes questions that have been asked to the Department about the proposed terms and conditions and the Department’s response.

Skills and experience

Buyers will use the essential and nice-to-have skills and experience to help them evaluate suppliers’ technical competence.

Essential skills and experience
  • Demonstrable experience of conducting an Alpha involving rapid prototype iteration through user and non-user research that is compliant with GDS service standards.
  • Demonstrable experience of conducting user research and usability testing sessions, face-to-face and remote based on robust methodology, including for users with accessibility and assisted digital needs.
  • Demonstrable experience of and ability to create a service blueprint, accurately-costed specification and working prototype(s) from a design and technical perspective that meets user needs and strategic objectives.
  • Demonstrable experience of producing engaging online learning content that meets user needs through taking an agile approach to learning design.
  • Demonstrable ability through relevant experience to provide personnel with specific expertise in pedagogy, online learning design, learning technology, and learning management system development/customisation.
  • Demonstrable ability through relevant experience to recruit all user research participants (minimum 200) for the course of the Alpha, including users with accessibility and assisted digital needs.
  • Demonstrable ability through relevant experience to organise the Alpha into effective sprints; work on the Alpha in-house as an embedded team; and deploy skills suitability across multiple work strands.
  • Demonstrable experience, strong understanding and ability to assess the appropriateness of different approaches to pedagogy and applicability to online learning.
  • Strong understanding of and ability to assess appropriateness of different learning technologies that support users to learn online (including learning management systems and communications technology used in online learning).
  • Demonstrable experience of designing high-quality online public-facing services that meet complex user needs.
Nice-to-have skills and experience
  • Demonstrable experience of designing and delivering high quality online learning for adults with low-medium skills (below degree level).
  • Demonstrable ability through relevant experience to provide personnel with subject matter expertise in basic maths, English and digital skills.

How suppliers will be evaluated

How many suppliers to evaluate
Proposal criteria
  • Technical solution – how you will deliver this multi-stranded Alpha (learning design, tutor support, and LMS/platform) compliant with GDS Service Standards, DfE technical standards, resulting in all specified outputs.
  • Approach and methodology – strong understanding of agile, user-centred design; traditional primary and secondary research and analysis; online learning design; pedagogy and learning technology as applied to the Alpha.
  • Meeting user needs – establishing and refining user needs through systematic and robust approach to user and non-user research to deliver a successful service as applied to the Alpha.
  • Meeting policy and service intent – delivering complex, multi-stranded research, prototyping and testing that meets policy and service intent as applied to this Alpha and expected outcomes.
  • Estimated timeframes for the work - how Alpha will be organised and achieve value for money. Details of the delivery timeline, duration and resource profile.
  • Risks and dependencies - effective approach to identifying and managing risks, issues and dependencies within the programme to ensure timely delivery, in the context of this Alpha.
  • Team structure – evidence, drawing on demonstrable experience, of being able to provide a team with effective skills and capabilities to ensure the success of the online training Alpha.
  • Value for money - transparent financial structure and fair pricing for the service. How you will ensure quality of delivery with prices and resources you have estimated.
  • The bigger picture –ensuring that recommendations for subsequent development stages (e.g. Beta) take account of capabilities of the online training market, commercial considerations (e.g. IP and licensing), and political context.
  • Accountabilities – set out how you will ensure you, as lead supplier, will be fully accountable for delivery, including where this involves partnership working and subcontracting.
Cultural fit criteria
  • Demonstrable experience of working collaboratively and openly in a complex political and delivery environment.
  • Demonstrable experience of working as part of a mixed supplier-client delivery team.
  • Demonstrable experience of and ability to effectively on-board team members during the Alpha to ensure no impact to delivery.
  • Demonstrable experience of and ability to quickly understand relevant pre-existing research, identified user needs, and to maintain continuity between previous work and the Alpha.
  • Demonstrable experience of and ability to work with cross-site teams, adapting agile ways of working to meet the needs of a dispersed team without reduction in effectivity.
  • Demonstrable experience of delivering successful projects in partnership or subcontracting with other organisations providing additional expertise.
Payment approach
Capped time and materials
Assessment methods
  • Written proposal
  • Presentation
Evaluation weighting

Technical competence


Cultural fit




Questions asked by suppliers

1. Will the questions that were emailed in and the responses to them be published?
We will answer any questions that we receive from suppliers and request that suppliers resend any questions that they may have. Questions and answers will be posted at the bottom of the advertisement on the Digital Marketplace. We will also post the questions and answers that we received when we published the previous advertisement so suppliers have the information they need to apply for this opportunity.
2. Will subject matter experts be expected to work full time and co-located?
This is something that you will have to consider, but it is clear from our requirements that this type of expertise will be needed to provide the outputs we need. Ideally everyone would be based in Manchester as we are keen to establish an effective multi-disciplinary team in
Manchester. We would be open to potential suppliers suggesting other arrangements (for some personnel) in their applications if they feel they can achieve the same outputs. There is some flexibility around remote working, but we would expect this to be at a minimum. Any alternatives suggested must be reasonable.
3. The Department has encouraged suppliers to work together to ensure that they can meet all the requirements for this project. There are no questions on the online form about who is submitting the bid.
Where two or more suppliers wish to submit a joint bid, how should then indicate that they are working together and which of them is the "lead" supplier? When providing evidence of skills or experience in a joint bid, should the submission say which supplier the experience relates to?
In the section marked ‘Supplier’, please include the lead supplier’s name first and then put in brackets that they are the lead supplier. You can include your partnership organisation in that same section and put brackets to show that they are the partnership organisation. This will indicate to us that this is an application from a consortia arrangement. When providing evidence of skills, you will need to show what experience relates to each organisation.
4. Do you have any expectations on the duration of the short research film or are you open to supplier suggestions?
We are open to supplier suggestions.
5. Who us the incumbent supplier?
There is not an incumbent supplier for the online training service which is why we are running this procurement for the online training service alpha. There has been a consortium of suppliers working with the department on two discoveries (led by eSynergy solutions) and an alpha (led by Farsight Consulting).
6. We are London and Bristol based but prepared to travel. Could you suggest an idea of how much work onsite in Manchester will be needed?
The Department for Education (DfE) offices in Manchester will be the primary location for this project. As such, the Supplier must be based and co-located at DfE offices in Manchester on a full-time basis. Some flexible and remote working will be possible but this must not be to the detriment of the project. It will also be necessary to engage and collaborate with colleagues in other DfE locations (London, in particular) and we expect user research and testing will take place in a few different locations (e.g. outside of Manchester and London).
7. As this is national initiative do you need to translate into Welsh?
We do not need any outputs from the Alpha to be translated into Welsh.
8. Are those who do not have any digital access in or out of scope?
Those who are unable to access the internet are out of scope to undertake online training. However, we are developing offline training products as an alternative to assist these users. Those with assisted digital needs are in scope.
9. Can you clarify the likely dates for the presentations for the next stage?
We anticipate that this will be in October. This will be confirmed to suppliers who we invite for further assessment.
10. Q7 in the ‘why the work is being done’ section of the website its states ‘The NRS will drive adult retraining in England and must be live by the end of this Parliament. This will include an online training service, which we envision will encompass remote/online tutor support.’
Our concern is that due to Brexit and other factors there is an election would that have an impact on the delivery date for the Alpha?
The department is considering all aspects of how Brexit might affect education. Departmental business is continuing as usual while we prepare for all possible Brexit outcomes.
11. If the recommendation from the Alpha is not to build a new service do you expect that the Alpha work will still have to go through a service assessment of any form?
We would not expect to go through GDS service assessment, but we would still engage closely with GDS on the matter and would follow their advice. However, a key objective of the Alpha is to research, prototype, test and iterate the proposed online training service to provide the insight we need to design an approach to online learning that meets our users’ needs (in line with NRS products) and to inform a decision about its viability. Therefore, a recommendation to not build a new service would have to be based on robust research and analysis from a strong evidence base.
12. When we have worked with DfE before we were provided with DfE laptops to secure Departmental data to your standards.

Will you be offering this option to the winning supplier and if so would there by any delays to the project while we waited for laptops to be provided?
Yes, we can provide DfE laptops for a limited number of supplier personnel and we would not anticipate delays to the project by providing these. This will be discussed as part of conversations with the successful supplier at onboarding stage.
13. In respect of ISO27002, can you provide secure on-site storage for laptops and storage devices e.g. external hard drives?
Yes, that is our intention.
14. Can you clarify if the 200 users are for research and testing in aggregate?
We would expect the recruitment and participation of a minimum of 200 users. This includes users with accessibility and assisted digital needs. These 200 users will be for activities such as focus groups and user testing rather than actually doing training per se.
15. Are you expecting that the submissions will include financial details such as hourly/daily rates that will allow you to evaluate costs and value for money?
If you are invited for further assessment, we will require you to submit a breakdown of proposed costs as part of your application. This should include day rates and number of days for supplier personnel in your application.
16. Government security classification allows organisations to apply controls below baseline on a risk managed basis. Would you consider reduced controls over some departmental data that is to be shared with the supplier or generated in the Alpha e.g. data that is subject to FOI?
We would expect all official data to be protected appropriately.
17. If we were to use the department's Office 365/Sharepoint solution or Gsuite solution we believe this would address business continuity concerns. Can you confirm?
You could use Gsuite. Departmental Sharepoint access would be approved for the appointed supplier for the purposes of this project. We confirm this would be fine in ensuring business continuity for subsequent stages such as private beta stages.
18. You note in the pre-advert Q&A that winning suppliers must conform to "Departmental Security Standards" – could these be published so we can check whether we and any subcontractors can conform to them?
We expect suppliers to demonstrate in their applications how they will conform to the Departmental Security Standards which will be provided before the contract starts. The Government technology standards can be found here:

The successful supplier will need to develop the working prototype with our technical architects and security team to ensure the prototype is not vulnerable and conforms to Departmental Security Standards.
19. Please clarify the use of ‘personnel’ in the second Nice-To-Have criteria, as well as the relationship between the requirement for subject matter expertise and basic skills in the same question.
By the term ‘personnel’ we mean staff who are within the lead supplier’s organisation and/or staff in the organisations that you subcontract to. We expect you to demonstrate experience/evidence in recruiting and having links with personnel who have subject matter expertise. Our starting point is that the learning will likely be ‘basic skills’ (English, maths and digital up to Level 2), which is why it is important to show you can recruit/have personnel that have this subject matter expertise.
20. One of the nice-to-have skills or experiences is "Demonstrable ability through relevant experience to provide personnel with subject matter expertise in basic maths, English and digital skills."

What level of competence could equate to "subject matter expertise" in numeracy, literacy and digital skills? Is this the same as "basic" skills?
We expect the supplier to demonstrate expertise in this area and that the evidence provided should add value to their application. An example of subject matter expertise could be personnel who have a level 5 teaching qualification, but we are open to other forms of evidence.
21. Do you expect to use the design system?
Yes, we would expect to adhere to design principles and adhere to the service standard available at:

If however, through robust user testing, suppliers can evidence a need for different design patterns, then we would engage with GDS to seek their view.
22. Can you say more about what support you can provide to gain security clearance before commencement?
We will direct you to the relevant guidance and provide advice before the contracts starts. The successful supplier will need to be compliant with DfE's Departmental Security Standards which can be found here:
23. Can you clarify if we need to submit details of consortia arrangements during this submission?
We appreciate that a list of subcontractors and full details of a consortia arrangements may not be fully known at this stage. However, it will be necessary for a lead supplier to demonstrate satisfactory evidence that they are able to provide the specific skills and capabilities to meet the requirements of the Alpha. Therefore, the greater the level of specificity around how a potential supplier will meet these requirements, the more advantageous it will be at assessment.
24. Can we charge variable day rates depending on roles?
Yes, depending on the roles for subcontractors, you can charge variable day rates. Day rates and the number of days for Supplier personnel, including the role and responsibility of personnel should be included in your written proposal should we invite you for further assessment.
25. You note that part of the team will be other suppliers and contractors experienced in shipping services using agile methodologies. Can you confirm that they are also compliant with ISO27002 and Cyber Essentials?
All suppliers/contractors involved in the National Retraining Scheme are required to comply with the Departmental Security Standards, which include compliance with ISO/IEC 27002. Full Departmental Security Standards have been included in the Online Training Alpha Terms and Conditions, which are published here:
For avoidance of doubt, these are the Departmental Security Standards to which we refer in the response to question 18.