Bright storm continues as Highfield hits back

An awarding organisation has hit back at claims by Bright Assessing chief executive Krissy Charles-Jones about its qualifications.

She had told FE Week that the troubled Warwickshire-based provider was “never approved or used” by Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance (HABC).

But the awarding body has disputed Ms Charles Jones’s statement.

Terry Bloor, HABC quality assurance manager, told FE Week: “Bright was approved as an HABC-approved centre on September 16, 2013, after completing our centre application process and paying the required approval fee [£336].”

He added the company was sent “a centre certificate confirming that Bright had been allocated centre number 13255”.

Mr Bloor said the provider still claimed it was accredited by ‘Highfield’ on its website — five months after HABC suspended ties with Bright without approving any qualifications for its learners [it had not removed the claim as FE Week went to press].

But Ms Charles-Jones said she was “sticking by” her original statement.

She said: “Bright have not received any confirmation from Highfields that we are an approved centre, we have no centre number. We never received a centre approval certificate.”

NCFE (formerly the Northern Council for Further Education) stopped certificating Bright courses in February following its investigation into alleged malpractice. The findings have not been made public, but Bright disputed “the findings and the sanction” and appealed. NCFE has now confirmed it has de-certificated at least one former learner, who took a level three assessing vocational achievement qualification with Bright.

A Skills Funding Agency (SFA) spokesperson indicated several former learners could face losing their qualifications.

She said: “For learners that the agency has funded, the lead providers have been working with NCFE to resubmit their portfolios and arrange for qualifications to be awarded. Privately funded learners are encouraged to contact NCFE.”

She declined to comment on whether the SFA would fund retraining for former learners who had passed publicly-funded Bright courses yet faced losing qualifications.

OCR and Ascentis confirmed last week they had cut ties with Bright — a move which, it is thought, left the provider without an awarding organisation.

OCR declined to comment on whether it would revoke certification from former Bright learners. Ascentis had “no concerns” about validity of its certificates.

Ms Charles-Jones said she planned to complain to Ofqual about NCFE, claiming the awarding organisation was to blame for former learners’ qualifications being revoked as it had not carried out sufficient “external moderation” of Bright courses.

She said: “Learners should not be concerned if they have contacted NCFE and have been told they are not registered, this is because they are about to become registered as we are data cleansing and collating our final lists.”

Ofqual said it was “being kept up-to-date” on the NCFE appeals process and enquiries should be made to its helpline on 0300 3033346.

Learners should email vocational.qualifications@ocr.org.uk, qualityassurance@ascentis.co.uk, or service@ncfe.org.uk for advice.

Mr Bloors told FE Week:

“Following its approval, Bright put numerous references to being approved by us on its website, including the HABC logo.

“We have asked Ms Charles-Jones to remove the ‘Highfield’ reference [on Bright’s website], but have not been provided with a response.

“Following Bright’s approval and prior to its suspension, HABC held ‘centre visits’ at Bright’s head office in Alcester on two separate occasions.

“On no occasion in our meetings or in the numerous correspondences between HABC and Bright (including Ms Charles-Jones) has Bright questioned whether they were indeed an approved centre, including correspondence confirming approved centre status had been suspended in December 2013.

“Neither have they questioned the whereabouts of an approval certificate or approval number.

“Bright’s centre status has now been permanently removed by HABC. We will under no circumstances work with Bright or Ms Charles-Jones in the future.”