Colleges rated inadequate by Ofsted are given a chance to improve before their funding is withdrawn and it is unfair that independent training providers are not given the same opportunity, says Paul Warner.
The Skills Funding Agency’s (SFA) Approach to Intervention recently set out the process by which contracts held by providers rated inadequate by Ofsted will be handled.
In the case of FE colleges, the SFA will issue a notice of concern specifying remedies to be made to allow the contract to be retained. The FE commissioner will consider how such an improvement plan should be undertaken.
Only after a further review would the SFA even consider issuing a notice of withdrawal of funding.
But when it comes to independent training providers (ITPs), the assumption is that the contracts will be terminated in all but the most exceptional circumstances.
A satisfactory rating may have been missed by a narrow margin and the issues of concern could be resolved
The Education Funding Agency (EFA) has much the same policy and this is clearly iniquitous.
This “all or nothing” criteria for ITPs raises the quality stakes to a frighteningly high level, given that the imposition of an inadequate rating means summary contract termination.
The Association of Education and Learning Providers’ (AELP) position is that in any review of poor quality provision, the reasons for the poor inspection and the future of the learners and employers must be taken into account.
A satisfactory rating may have been missed by a narrow margin and the issues of concern could be resolved.
Consideration should also be given to the possible adverse impact of summary closure on the availability of provision in a given geographical or occupational area.
One reason given to AELP for this unequal treatment is that the legal relationship between the state and FE colleges allows for the leadership and governance of a college to be replaced if necessary, but replacing the owner of an ITP would not be practical.
This ignores the point that it may not be the leadership and governance that needs addressing. It could be the executive management team, the replacement or modification of which is equally possible in a college or an ITP.
The effect of summary closures can also be seen down supply chains, where a sub-contractor may well be forced to close despite the fact it is delivering quality provision.
While the SFA is reasonably aware of its supply chain coverage, the EFA does not have the details of its subcontracting arrangements.
In any case, neither gives it consideration when issuing summary contract terminations.
The AELP is aware of several examples of where good quality provision in a local authority area is adversely affected. In fact vital provision in their area has been closed down on this basis without reference to their views and an indication of the timescale when any replacement may be made available.
We should also remember that there are other reasons when this intervention is implemented such as audit issues.
Again the SFA and EFA should ensure they understand the full implications of implementing an immediate response which results in closure of provision.
We have seen an example recently where it has been accepted that the provider did not make any false claims. Unfortunately, the provision was closed long before the facts were established.
It has been a core policy of AELP since its formation to support the drive for high quality provision and our policy remains as strong as ever, but we need a balanced approach to the position where an established provider receives an inadequate rating.
This response must reflect the opportunity to turn that provision around as it does for FE colleges.
In some cases, a period of review and remedy would be a better response than immediate closure, so the solution provides the best result for learners and employers.
Intervention policies at both the SFA and EFA should reflect this and give all institutions rated inadequate an equal chance to submit realistic improvement plans, before contract termination is considered.
Paul Warner, director of employment and skill, Association of Employment and Learning Providers