Why the delay for Learndirect inspection report?

Ofsted’s eagerly awaited inspection report on the nation’s largest FE provider has been delayed by six weeks, with the “silence period” before the election given as the reason.

Learndirect was visited by the education watchdog a month ago, and speculation has been mounting over the grade it will receive.

However, in an unusual move Ofsted told FE Week on April 27 that it would be withholding the report for another six weeks until the general election is over.

“Ofsted, like other government departments, is subject to certain limitations on activity during election silence periods under guidance set out by the Cabinet Office,” said a spokesperson.

“In line with the guidance, we will not publish the inspection report at this time because of the provider’s significance as a national provider of FE training.”

He confirmed Ofsted had “inspected this learning provider in late March 2017” and planned “to publish the inspection report after the general election on June 8”.

The delay will mean around a 10-week gap between the Sheffield-based provider’s inspection and the announcement of its new Ofsted rating.

The usual time period between the end of an inspection and publication of the resulting report is generally four to six weeks, meaning the treatment of Learndirect is highly irregular.

The provider itself blamed data issues for the hold-up, apparently contradicting Ofsted’s explanation that election purdah was behind the hold-up.

A spokesperson told FE Week that the delay was to allow more time for the provider to hand over relevant data due to its size.

“We have recently been inspected and due to the scope of Learndirect’s provision we are still providing Ofsted with data,” she said.

“While this process continues, we have received notification from Ofsted that our report will not be published for at least the next six weeks.”

When FE Week challenged Ofsted to explain the contradiction between its account of the delay and that provided by Learndirect, we were told to take it up with the provider.

A spokesperson did however admit that some exchange of data was still taking place, because the average period of “26 working days” between inspection and publication had been disrupted by the Easter holidays.

Learndirect has hit the headlines a number of times in recent years, chiefly due to the size of its topslices – a process in which lead providers retain government funding as management fees, before paying a subcontractor to do the training for the remaining sum.

It retained almost £20 million in management fees from its 64 subcontractors in 2015/16 – amounting to 36 per cent of the £55.3 million it received in funding from the Skills Funding Agency.

Learndirect was awarded the largest adult education budget in the country from the SFA for 2016/17 (£60,199,994), and had the second largest allocations for both adult apprenticeships and advanced learning loans (£30,868,330 and £5,116,184).

It also came out on top this February in the race to win European Social Fund contracts, securing 26 deals worth almost £49.5 million, according to FE Week analysis.

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