Learndirect special treatment update: Student protection plan demanded as no contracts are terminated

Learndirect special treatment update: Student protection plan demanded as no contracts are terminated

Even Learndirect’s own membership body, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, has demanded a full explanation of how the government will protect current and future students.

The Department for Education admitted this week it will continue to fund the nation’s biggest FE provider for current and new students until July 31, 2018, following its ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating.

This allows Learndirect Ltd to see out their apprenticeship and adult education budget contracts, which were due to end anyway at this point, without the need for a damaging three month early termination notice, which would normally be triggered by a grade four.

Waiving the early termination will be of great personal relief to the directors of Learndirect.

The government’s ‘funding higher-risk organisations and subcontractors’ guidance says their future funding and bids could be rejected where there has been “early termination of a funding agreement or a subcontract to deliver education and training services funded by the SFA within the last three years”.

And Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd, set up by two of the Learndirect Ltd directors last year, will remain on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers and continue to access unlimited public funding for apprentices at large levy-paying employers.

Although the DfE claimed in a ‘blog’ that this isn’t special treatment, and waiving of a termination notice was to “protect” learners, concern is mounting for current and future students.

AELP boss Mark Dawe has now called on the government to spell out what it has planned, during an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Learners need to be moved quickly to other good quality providers

“The government claim they are winding down the contract to protect learners and ensure they are not damaged by this, which is fine providing if it is very clear what the government is going to do, as well as Ofsted’s monitoring, to ensure that Learndirect improves the delivery,” he said yesterday.

If students are going to get “more of the same” training, then that is “not going to do any of the 79,000 learners any good whatsoever”, he added.

Mr Dawe urged the government to move the affected learners “quickly, like they have been with other providers, to other good quality providers” and asked for clarity over ministers’ plans to help affected learners.

“If there is something in place where they can guarantee that the money is going to get to the learners, and it is going to be high quality, the government needs to be very transparent about that and tell us what they are doing, and why they’re doing it, and how it is going to work.”

FE Week put Mr Dawe’s comments to the DfE, and asked for clarification on what they plan to do.

But the department refused to answer questions on how or if quality at Learndirect would be monitored.

During a judicial review where Learndirect unsuccessfully attempted to quash its grade four report, attended by FE Week, it was revealed that no evidence of initial assessment or individual learning plans could be found for a random sample of five apprentices during Ofsted’s inspection.

More than a third of apprentices were also found to not be receiving their off the job training entitlement. This in itself could raise questions as to whether the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s funding rules had been broken.

“They [Learndirect’s learners] deserve good quality training and deserve management systems which monitors their training and ensures this is happening,” Mr Dawe said.

“All of this costs money, so what we need to ensure is if the funding agency is going to give further money for these learners, that is either through Learndirect or other providers they make sure learners are getting the training outcomes that they deserve.”

An Ofsted spokesperson told FE Week the inspectorate was “reviewing what further inspection or monitoring we might undertake, with respect to remaining provision, in the interest of learners”.

FE Week was first to report the Learndirect grade four, after successfully over-turning a gagging order, and jointly worked on the investigation with the Financial Times.