SFA lifts blanket ban on new Elmfield learners after minister orders Ofsted revisit

SFA lifts blanket ban on new Elmfield learners after minister orders Ofsted revisit

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has lifted its blanket ban on new learners at Elmfield Training after an early Ofsted revisit ordered by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock resulted in a positive report.

The SFA will now assess any request from Elmfield to start apprentices with, for instance, current client Barclays Bank on a “case-by-case basis”.

The latest Ofsted report, published this month, states: “At the request of the Minister for Skills [Matthew Hancock], Ofsted inspectors conducted a monitoring visit in September, three months after the last inspection rather than the usual six to eight months.

“The aim of the visit was to explore the progress being made towards the recommendations of the inspection in June.”

The SFA issued the training provider with a notice of serious breach after a full Ofsted inspection in June, which resulted in a grade four (inadequate) rating.

The notice included a condition that Elmfield could not start any new learners with new or existing employers, or apply for more government funding.

However, an SFA spokesperson told FE Week its position had now softened, following the encouraging findings of the monitoring report, which unlike full inspections does not result in an overall grading.

She said: “The notice of serious breach remains in force. However, the agency retains the right to alter the conditions of the notice should we be satisfied with the progress being made.

“Ofsted has published the full report from its recent monitoring visit and the inspectors have noted the reasonable progress against five of the six actions taken by Elmfield and significant progress against one action.

“We will assess any request from Elmfield to start new apprenticeships on a case by case basis.”

An Elmfield spokesperson said: “We are pleased to see that we have been able to demonstrate progress in all areas of our work examined by Ofsted in a very short space of time.”

In May this year FE Week reported how Elmfield’s success rates showed just 47.5 per cent of its 13,420 leavers in the retail and wholesale sector, aged 25+, walked away with an apprenticeship certificate in 2011/12.

Ged Syddall (pictured giving evidence to the BIS Select Committee last year) then resigned as Elmfield chief executive in July, in light of the grade four Ofsted result, and as director during a Newsnight investigation last month, although it is understood he remains majority share-holder.

The BBC probe looked into allegations that workers had been signed up for apprenticeships despite turning down the programme.

The SFA has also told FE Week it was “investigating further allegations made against Elmfield Training Ltd and so we are not able to comment on the details”.

Nevertheless, the monitoring inspection, carried out over two days by two inspectors, found “significant progress” had been made in how Elmfield co-operates with employers over its training programmes.

Inspectors also found there had been “reasonable progress” with improving the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, and the rate at which learners achieved their qualifications.

Their report stated: “Improving success rates, especially the rate at which learners achieve their qualifications within the planned timescale, is now a key focus for all staff.”

It added that reasonable progress had been made with improving the development of learners’ key and functional skills.

However, the report warned a number of learners near the end of their training programmes had still not taken functional skills tests.

The Elmfield spokesperson said: “The new leadership of Elmfield has worked hard since our June 2013 visit by Ofsted to ensure that everyone in our business is focused on delivering high quality training for our learners on behalf of our clients and funding partners.”