EFA pulls Chelmer Training contract after fall from outstanding to inadequate — but questions remain for Ofsted

A provider that plummeted straight from Ofsted outstanding nearly a decade ago to inadequate escaped a visit from inspectors until this year despite recording success rates more than 10 percentage points below the national average in 2010/11, FE Week can reveal.

London-based Chelmer Training was given the grade four overall rating this month and was also hit with inadequate scores for every other single judgement.

The result, which comes eight years after its last inspection resulted in a grade one result, has seen the Department for Education (DfE) “take steps to withdraw Chelmer Training’s contract”.

However, FE Week has uncovered worrying evidence suggesting an inspection from Ofsted — which claims to have a “clear moderation process to identify where standards are slipping” — should have taken place three years ago.

Chelmer, which has around 130 learners all aged 16 to 18 and on study programmes, recorded success rates of 54.1 per cent in 2010/11 — the equivalent national figure for the year was 65.1 per cent.

The Ofsted FE and skills inspection handbook outlines how providers, even rated outstanding for overall effectiveness, would usually have another full inspection if there were concerns over performance or standards were dropping.

However, alarm bells might also have been ringing due to Chelmer’s growth, having quadrupled in size from the time of the 2006 inspection and 45 learners, to more than 200 learners for 2010/11.

Ofsted declined to comment on why Chelmer was not inspected until this year in light of the 2010/11 success rates, and growth, but insisted it acted where concerns were identified.

A spokesperson for the education watchdog said: “In order to effectively raise standards in the FE sector, Ofsted prioritises inspections of providers rated ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’. Providers deemed ‘outstanding’ are not regularly re-inspected.

“Ofsted also has in place a clear moderation process to identify where standards are slipping. If concerns about a provider are identified we will take quick action to inspect their performance, regardless of their previous inspection rating. We will only take action to re-inspect an outstanding provider where there is a clear basis to do so.

“In the case of Chelmer Training Ltd, concerns about performance were identified and we swiftly inspected the provider to asses these concerns. Ofsted deemed provision for the study programmes to be ‘inadequate’.”

Ofsted inspectors, who visited Chelmer around the end of June, looked at the quality of the provider’s teaching, learning and assessment for its study programme offer on employability training, and hairdressing and beauty therapy.

They were both judged inadequate, as was the effectiveness of leadership and management, despite inspectors reporting that, “leaders have established a stable team that is now in place after a period of considerable change in staffing.”

But the report on Chelmer, which has centres in Romford and Chelmsford, Essex, also said: “The proportion of learners who achieve their qualifications and successfully complete their courses is too low, particularly in English and mathematics. Not enough learners progress to further study or employment.”

It added: “The provider’s evaluation of its provision is insufficiently self-critical and lacks accuracy in its evaluation of performance.

“The leadership team does not evaluate sufficiently the limited number of actions in the quality improvement plan in order to assess their impact during the year. As a result, leaders and managers do not have a sufficiently clear picture of how much progress they are making in rectifying weaknesses.”

A DfE spokesperson told FE Week: “Following their recent Ofsted inspection, we have taken steps to withdraw Chelmer Training’s contract. Chelmer Training will ensure that all current learners complete their courses as planned and any further student recruitment has been frozen.

“We are working closely with the London Borough of Havering and Essex County Council to make sure that any gaps in provision created by the wind-down of Chelmer Training’s contract are filled by high-quality alternatives.“

Chelmer declined to comment.