The Department for Education has remained silent over why a college with a grade four for its apprenticeship provision has not been removed from the register of apprenticeship training providers.
St Helens College received the lowest possible grade for its provision in an Ofsted report published on June 16, just three months after it was added to the register.
But two months on, the college is still on the register – even though it now doesn’t meet eligibility criteria, under which providers must have at least a grade three for apprenticeships.
The DfE has not commented on the situation more than a week after FE Week first made an enquiry.
Simon Ashworth, chief policy officer at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, urged the government to come clean.
“In a week when questions are being asked about whether some are receiving special treatment, it’s not unreasonable to expect an explanation as to why this college is still on the register and why they are still actively promoting their apprenticeship offer to employers in the local area,” he said.
One possible explanation for the colleges’ continued presence on the register could be its planned merger with Knowsley Community College.
The partnership, recommended through the Liverpool city region area review, was originally planned for March, then put back to August, and has recently been delayed again.
A spokesperson for St Helens insisted the two were still set to join forces, although no date has been fixed.
Knowsley is also on the register, and received a grade three overall and for its apprenticeship provision in its most recent Ofsted inspection in March 2016.
As previously reported by FE Week, merger plans were cited as the reason behind one college being quietly slipped onto the register outside the formal application window.
South and City College Birmingham was added in April after the ESFA revisited a number of applications in exceptional circumstances.
The college had secured funding from the ESFA’s transaction unit for its planned merger, which was agreed on the basis that the college needed to deliver apprenticeships to be viable.
Another provider, Norfolk Training Services, was added at the same time.
That decision was understood to be related to the way RoATP Ofsted rules were interpreted for an inspection report that was, at the time, yet to be published.
When the report was published in May, it revealed the provider had received a grade four overall but a grade three for its apprenticeship provision.
ESFA rules states that only providers with at least a grade three for apprenticeship provision are eligible to apply to the register.
Providers with a grade four overall are eligible to apply but only if they have been inspected since September 2015 and received a higher grade for their apprenticeship provision.
The former apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon got into a spot of bother over a letter to a training provider, Acacia Training, dated March 16, in which he wrongly claimed that organisations with a grade four overall would “not be allowed to enter the register”.
He said that “if an organisation listed on the register attains a grade four in the future, then they will be removed from the register immediately.”
A DfE spokesperson told FE Week at the time that it had been a simple mistake in the letter, but also claimed that “there are no providers on the register who have a grade four for apprenticeship provision”.
The DfE provided the following statement at 10.59am on August 17: “ESFA will exercise its right to terminate contracts where a provider is not meeting the standards expected. In these cases, we will make the necessary changes to the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers. We do not comment on individual cases before that point.”