The 14-month wait for an outstanding independent learning provider (ILP) under Ofsted’s current common inspection framework is over.

The education watchdog visited Twickenham-based Hawk Training (pictured below) late in September and on November 1 issued it with a glowing, grade one inspection result.

It was the first ILP to achieve the feat under Ofsted’s latest inspection regime after 134 visits.

Hawk Training, Regal-House

Hawk, a 1,300-apprenticeship provider, was rated as good in 2008, but this time won outstanding ratings overall and also for its leadership and management, and — key to its overall grade one result — teaching, learning and assessment. It was also rated as good for its learner outcomes.

“Highly-skilled and enthusiastic staff serve as outstanding role models for learners,” it said in the report, which added: “Leadership and management are outstanding, leading to significant improvements in the quality of provision.”

Its managing director, Terry Barnett, said: “We’ve worked very, very hard other the last two years to get up the teaching and learning and assessment. We work very hard for all our people to get a certificate in teaching and learning and assessment.”

He added: “At the end of the day, it’s all about hard graft. It’s about getting your head down, making sure your organisation is a quality organisation, working with quality people.

“I think one of the good things that always stood me in good stead, is always try and do business with nice people. You can’t always do it, but if you can it helps a lot.

“I think we’re fiercely proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve developed.”

Hawk, established in 1988, delivers training in early years and playwork, business and administration, and team leading and management to a range of employers, including the government and Xerox.

Among its areas of praise from Ofsted were “considerable investment…in improvements to accommodation, information technology and resources for learning”.

The report continued: “Tutors use their modern ICT equipment, a broad range of software and additional learning resources well to enhance the learning experience for apprentices in the workplace.”

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, visited the firm on the day its Ofsted report was released. He said: “Meeting the Hawk team, it is easy to see why the provision has been graded as outstanding.

“The facilities, the attitude and commitment of the staff are second to none and it is good to see that this has been recognised by Ofsted.

“Hawk Training is a real example of how work-based learning can deliver high quality, flexible programmes across a wide range of employers.

“We are delighted that Hawk Training has agreed to share some of their experiences at an AELP conference on December 10, when we will hear the feedback from the Chief Inspector’s annual report.”

Of Ofsted’s 135 ILP inspections under its current inspection regime, in which providers must achieve outstanding for teaching and learning to stand a chance of getting the same grade overall, a dozen inadequate ratings have been dished out.

There have also been 55 grade three, or requires improvement, judgments along with 67 at grade two, or good, plus Hawk’s grade one.

“We hope that more providers will achieve outstanding and good ratings from Ofsted, but the new inspection framework is only a year old and we will continue to work with Ofsted to ensure that the key elements of work-based delivery are fully recognised within the framework,” said Mr Segal.

“Examples like Hawk Training can only help improve the understanding of what a work-based learning provider can deliver for employers and learners.”

From the control room to swivel chairs, FE Week on tour

With the ink on Hawk’s outstanding inspection report barely dry, FE Week editor Nick Linford and deputy editor Chris Henwood paid the Twickenham provider a visit.

Set on the fourth floor of a grey, 10-floor office block next to Twickenham train station, one thing that Hawk Training seems to do well — apart from delivering work-based learning, of course — is understatement.

The relatively non-descript home of this very special outfit is bookended by a Travelodge at one end and a sports bar at the other.

From left: Nick Linford, FE Week editor, and Kathryn Osborn, Hawk Training operations manager

There’s no suggestion to the passer-by that within these walls is the first independent learning provider to have been graded outstanding in more than a year.

And, having enjoyed a one-hour tour of the firm’s premises, where I got to sample first-hand the warm hospitality of Terry Barnett’s close-knit team of directors and managers, I am the first to broach the ‘grade one’ issue.

Clearly proud of their achievement, they were equally humbled by it and, in all honesty, seemed a little unprepared for the resultant attention it was always going to bring.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing — this is a provider, education and training is their business and that’s what they’re good at. Very good, in fact.

From the moment I set foot in the slick Hawk offices and typed my details into a touchscreen pad that then took my photo, before I was presented with a name badge sticker (complete with my mugshot), it was clear that there had been serious investment here — as mentioned in the Ofsted inspection report.

Looking beyond the ultra-clean and modern facilities, it was attention to detail and investment in IT hardware that Terry was keen to show off.

One room was full of ‘Node’ classroom chairs from America (pictured above right) that swivelled relentlessly to accommodate left or right-handed learners, and also offered their own little storage space under the seat.

Chris Henwood, FE Week deputy editor, tries out a ‘Node’ chair

In another room, the latest high-definition cameras were remotely turning and zooming in and out to record a lesson, for the benefit of absent learners, from the ‘control room’ (pictured above left).

And the use of technology extended beyond the classroom, as the Skills Funding Agency has given Hawk permission to use electronic signatures, which means the few bits of paperwork on show are simply learner certificates ready to send out.

In fact, visually everything was almost too perfect. For example, it was hard not to giggle at the carefully spaced bottles of juice in the boardroom fridge — but that’s no grounds for criticism.

Ultimately, it’s not possible from my visit to comment on the quality of teaching, Ofsted (the experts) have done that, but if training providers and colleges want to see what can be achieved with a serious amount of investment in facilities and IT, then certainly head down to Twickenham.