Provider ordered to stop quals after malpractice probe

A Warwickshire-based provider has been told it can no longer offer qualifications from a leading awarding organisation after it investigated allegations of malpractice.

Bright Assessing, which has boasted a pass rate of between 95 and 100 per cent, has been told it will “no longer have any involvement in the administration, delivery, assessment, moderation, invigilation and certification” of any NCFE (formerly the Northern Council for Further Education) programmes.

The findings of the NCFE investigation have not been made public, but a spokesperson for Bright said it “vigorously disputes both the findings and the sanction” and that it would appeal. He declined to comment on how the decision would affect learners enrolled on NCFE courses.

A spokesperson for the awarding organisation said it could not reveal its findings until a ruling had been made on any appeal, which had to be in by the middle of next next month. Meanwhile, Ofqual has already said NCFE’s action was “appropriate”.

In November NCFE  told FE Week  it had launched an investigation into Bright, which provides qualifications for unemployed people who want to re-enter the workplace, following complaints from learners.

The awarding organisation spokesperson said: “Following a rigorous investigation into the quality standards of Bright, we have taken the decision to permanently withdraw centre approval.

“This means that Bright will no longer have any involvement in the administration, delivery, assessment, moderation, invigilation and certification of any NCFE programmes.

“Learners are at the heart of all we do and our stringent quality assurance processes are in place to ensure that the interests of our registered learners are protected.

“We take our duty of care to them extremely seriously and will do our utmost to support them, following the removal of Bright’s centre approval.”

Krissy-Charles-Jones

Bright Assessing chief executive Krissy Charles-Jones

But a spokesperson for Bright, originally called Bright Assessing but with the registered trading name of Bright International Training, hit back.

He said: “We vigorously dispute both the findings and the sanction imposed by NCFE, and have begun a process of appeal.

“We are also seeking the opinion and intervention of the regulator, Ofqual, and will be supplying information in support of our defence.

“We have subsequently been faced with critical challenges to our business, many of which could have been avoided had NCFE met its obligation to conduct appropriate external quality assurance processes and to provide adequate advice as per their contract with Bright and as stated within their own regulations.”

He added that Bright nevertheless still planned to “extend the range of courses we offer our learners” with other awarding organisations.

An Ofqual spokesperson said: “NCFE kept us informed throughout its investigations into allegations of malpractice at Bright. We consider the action it has taken to be appropriate to protect the integrity of its qualifications and the interests of those taking them.

“We require awarding organisations to investigate any allegations of malpractice by schools or colleges.

“Where it is found to be occurring, they must take swift and effective action to protect the integrity of the qualifications. The investigation and resulting action by NCFE in this case show that malpractice will not be tolerated.

“Bright can appeal to NCFE against the decision. If, after completing that process, it still wishes to make a complaint to Ofqual, we would then deal with it in accordance with our own complaints procedures and consider the evidence.”

Appeals at NCFE are heard by an internal panel, which includes an independent expert.

It comes just a month after Bright chief executive Krissy Charles-Jones was pulled up by Ofsted over a misleading tweet and posting on her company website that appeared to imply the education watchdog had visited and given it a good grading.

But a Bright-commissioned inspection firm — Portsmouth-based private contractor Prospect Consultants — had carried out the inspection.