Provider owner also set-up awarding body

The owner of one of the UK’s largest and “fastest growing” vocational training providers has also created his own awarding body.

Gerard Syddall is a company director and 95 per cent shareholder of Elmfield Training Ltd.

As reported by FE Week in June and more recently in the TES magazine, Elmfield Training took more than £12 million in pre-tax profits in the financial year ending September 2010, on a turnover of £33.8 million, resulting in a profit margin of roughly 36 per cent.

The company then used the profits to pay a £3 million dividend to its shareholders, of which Mr Syddall was the main recipient.

For this academic year, Elmfield Training has been allocated £37 million from the Skills Funding Agency to deliver apprenticeships to employers including Morrisons, Vodafone and British Home Stores.

However, FE Week can also reveal that in May 2009, Mr Syddall set-up his own awarding body, Skills First Awards Ltd, to certificate the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) qualifications and apprenticeship frameworks of his other company, Elmfield Training.

Myra Wall, managing director of Skills First Awards, said: “Thanks to our unique positioning, structure and in-depth sector understanding, we are able to work with training providers and employers to deliver relevant, fit-for-purpose work-based qualifications.

“Although setting up as an awarding body was very demanding due to the rigour of the recognition process in place, we are extremely proud of the growth we have achieved to date and our customer base and qualifications portfolio is rapidly building.”

Despite referring  to multiple “training providers” and “employers”, a spokesperson from Skills First Awards was unable to confirm they work with anyone other than Elmfield Training.

When asked about clientele, FE Week was referred to a testimonials page which displays a number of employers handled by Elmfield Training.

Elmfield Training refused to comment on Mr Syddall’s relationship with the awarding body at the time of going to print.

The governing body of Skills First Awards – like all awarding bodies – has until May 18 to confirm they are working in compliance with the General Conditions of Recognition developed by Ofqual.

When asked about the relationship between Elmfield Training and Skills First Awards,  a spokesperson for Ofqual said: “The conditions set out the requirements for managing any potential conflicts of interest in the delivery of regulated qualifications. Any breaches of the conditions of recognition could lead to regulatory action taken against the awarding organisation.”

The spokesperson added: “We have met with the governing body to discuss the transition to the new regulatory arrangements.”

Skills First Awards was allowed to offer regulated qualifications on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in July 2009.

They were later recognised for the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) in December 2009 and Key Skills in February 2011, under the Statutory Regulations 2004 and QCF Regulatory Arrangements 2008.