Ofsted adds to criticism of A4e

Staff at A4e are struggling to improve the way they deliver apprenticeships, according to a monitoring report published by Ofsted.

The document, which details a monitoring visit carried out in April, says the training provider is making “insufficient progress” in three areas and “reasonable progress” in the remaining five.

The mixed grades follow a “satisfactory” inspection rating which was given to the training provider in August 2010.

It says that while A4e has made changes to try and improve the success rates of their learners, such as a new management information system and revised learner recruitment procedures, they are “yet to result in sustained improvement.”

“These initiatives have improved success rates in a few subject areas and regions, but overall success rates declined in 2010/11,” the monitoring report reads.

A4e says they have introduced a number of successful initiatives in the company and made “significant progress” since Ofsted inspected them in 2010.

“This latest inspection commends us for doing so,” a spokesperson for A4e told FE Week.

“It has identified some areas which need improvement and we have put in place an action plan to meet these requirements.

“A4e continues to work towards providing outstanding skills-based training programmes for our customers.”

The monitoring report by Ofsted says A4e are “poor” at monitoring the delivery of their consortium partners and sub-contractors. It later says the company focuses “too heavily” on making sure these providers complete their paperwork properly, rather than on the quality of training being delivered.

“A4e places too strong an emphasis on consortium partners declaring their own areas for improvement either through discussion, their self-assessment reports or position statements,” the monitoring report reads.

However, the Ofsted report also praises staff at A4e for taking on “an increased responsibility for implementing improvement initiatives.

“They enthusiastically and swiftly make changes to the provision which have positively improved the experience of learners,” the monitoring report reads.

“During meetings, staff teams regularly discuss the progress they are making with quality improvement plans.”

It is unclear whether the progress made by A4e is common for other private training providers.

A spokesperson for Ofsted told FE Week: “Ofsted does not comment on individual inspections over and above the published report – in this case a monitoring inspection report.

“As each monitoring report will focus on issues raised at the previous inspection, we do not undertake any analysis across a range of monitoring visit reports.”

The former head of audit at A4e submitted written evidence to Parliament last week detailing how “weak management” and “inadequate control systems” led to fraud at the company.

Eddie Hutchinson, who also attended a meeting held by Public Accounts Committee last Tuesday, claims “that the incidence of frauds and irregularities was a major problem for the company.”

The written evidence, given to the Daily Telegraph, reads: “An ever-increasing volume of frauds came to my attention, often via a particular direct report of mine in the audit team.”

A4e has since issued a statement, which reads: “The majority of allegations made by Mr Hutchinson are unfounded and untrue.

“A4e always adheres to established procedures by ensuring relevant issues are referred to the relevant funder authority.

“None of the issues raised here prove there is systemic fraud at A4e and all of them relate to historic contracts.”

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) issued a statement earlier this month confirming they have found “no evidence of fraud” in the training delivered by A4e. The finding follows allegations of fraud relating to the company’s work with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

“The Agency now has adequate assurance on current and potential future contracts with A4e,” a statement by the SFA reads.

“As with all of our suppliers, we will be vigilant and use all of our oversight and audit processes to maintain assurance that public funds and learners’ interests are safeguarded.”

The government terminated A4e’s Mandatory Work Activity contract earlier this month, despite finding no evidence of fraud in its delivery of the programme.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said: “While the team found no evidence of fraud, it identified significant weaknesses in A4e’s internal controls on the Mandatory Work Activity contract in the South East.

“As a result, the Department has concluded that continuing with this contract presents too great a risk and we have terminated the Mandatory Work Activity contract with A4e for the South East.”