Elmfield boss quits over Ofsted’s inadequate grading

The boss of Elmfield Training has quit after Ofsted inspectors gave the firm an inadequate rating having come across “unacceptably low” results.

Ged Syddall resigned after ten years as chief executive, and founder, of the Cheshire-based independent training provider taking “full responsibility” for the results.

He said: “Despite many positive findings the business has received low grades and ultimately as chief executive I take full responsibility for that.

“I have therefore resigned as chief executive with immediate effect.”

However, it is understood Mr Syddall will remain majority shareholder of Elmfield, which currently has a £27.6m contract with the Skills Funding Agency.

Meanwhile, the agency has issued the firm with a Notice of Serious Breach and prohibited it from contracting any new employers while under the notice.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “We are taking tough and urgent action on failing colleges and training providers such as Elmfield that are not up to scratch to protect learners.

“I want to root out poor performance wherever I find it.”

The Ofsted inspection of Elmfield last month today resulted in a downgrading on 2011’s ‘requires improvement’ (grade three, and formerly termed ‘satisfactory’) rating to inadequate (grade four).

“The report says our staff are committed and enthusiastic, and inspectors told me at the end of the inspection they had nothing but admiration for the passion staff have for their work. I cannot thank them enough for that,” said Mr Syddall.

But Ofsted was critical on several areas of service provided by Elmfield, which previously counted supermarket giant Morrisons as its biggest customer. Barclays is among its current client base.

“Success rates in the apprenticeship programmes experienced a considerable decline last year and a high proportion of learners within the Morrisons’ contract did not complete the full framework,” said the report.

“Furthermore, the number of learners who completed their apprenticeship in the planned time fell to an unacceptably low level of 33 per cent.”

It added: “The number of learners who complete their qualification in the expected time continues to decline and has reached an unacceptably low 23 per cent of the retail apprenticeships, which make up the majority of Elmfield’s provision.”

And attendance at key skills sessions fell to a “very low 26 per cent,” said the report, which added: “Elmfield has been slow in implementing the delivery of functional skills and does not have sufficient numbers of staff with the appropriate qualifications in the teaching of functional skills.”

However, the report also said the 11,371-learner provider had experienced “changes at the board level within Morrisons, tough trading conditions in the retail sector, long periods of lockdown preventing activity other than trading taking place, intense media scrutiny and breakdown of relationships, combined with lack of commitment from some stores.” The report claimed these “all contributed to this unsatisfactory position”.

A spokesperson for Elmfield, which has 413 staff, said: “We are obviously disappointed by the grades in the report, but we think the inspection process itself was fair.

“We accept that in the current Ofsted framework it is almost inevitable for a provider with inadequate outcomes for learners to be given inadequate grades for leadership and management and overall effectiveness as well.”

She added: “Although the report is critical of the overall success rates achieved by learners in 2011/12, inspectors recognised that a high proportion of learners — 83 per cent — succeeded in the vocational element of their training and that achievement rates improved markedly this year, to 86 per cent.

“As far as teaching and learning are concerned, the report says that most teaching and assessment sessions are good, learners develop good vocational skills and the programmes we have started in the last two years are well planned and managed.

“We accept the recommendations for improvement in the report and will focus on tackling the success factors identified initially in our self-assessment report and by Ofsted.

“We continue to work closely with the Skills Funding Agency, our employer partners and most importantly our learners to build on the strong partnerships built up in the last two years.”

Ofsted inspectors will return to Elmfield in the autumn to see if it has improved.

Mr Hancock said: “A more rigorous and responsive skills system is crucial to our future economic success and our drive to tackle youth unemployment.

“Poor training undermines social mobility and holds back people who want to get on in life.”