Further education leaders have called for a rethink on traineeships after new rules revealed lower-rated providers would be able to run the scheme, despite it having been designed for top-ranking providers.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock announced the traineeships framework last month, including details of how only providers graded by Ofsted as outstanding or good (grade one or two, respectively) could run them.
But according to Skills Funding Agency (SFA) rules published more recently, subcontractors deemed by Ofsted to be in need of improvement (grade three), or who have never been inspected, also will be able to run the scheme.
The issue has reopened the debate around Ofsted grades being the only means of determining suitable providers.
Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, has previously described the system as “providing only a limited perspective as it does not reflect the full range and nuances of the varied grades, differences and aspects of college provision”.
She said she wanted to see the latest issue addressed.
“Our concern at the use of Ofsted criteria alone to determine the delivery of traineeships is on record,” said Mrs Sedgmore.
“Even more worrying would be for those criteria to be inconsistently applied.
“If the anomaly highlighted is an oversight, it should be rectified, to enable the focus to be on the bigger issue of how a college’s impact can be properly measured.”
Grade three subcontractors can deliver traineeships as long as they were on the SFA’s subcontractors’ register at the start of this month. Their lead contractors must be grade one or two.
Unregistered grade three subcontractors, or those registered after May, will not be able to run the scheme. No grade four providers, or those with a notice of concern, can deliver traineeships.
Stewart Segal, chief executive designate of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “We want to ensure that the rules for Education Funding Agency and SFA contractors are consistent.
“With a huge cohort to tackle and a limited overall budget, it’s important that we resolve this matter before the programme starts, rather than wait for case-by-case judgments.”
An SFA spokesperson said providers with an Ofsted grade of good or outstanding could use their existing supply chain to deliver a “high quality offer” to learners and employers.
“We will review provider eligibility on a regular basis to reflect any changes in Ofsted ratings,” she said.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “For the first year of the programme, grade three prime contractors will not be able to run traineeships and any newly-registered subcontractors will need to be rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted.
“We are only allowing grade three subcontractors to deliver traineeships where they are subcontracted to a good or outstanding prime contractor and we are confident they will be able to deliver a quality service.”