Learndirect’s apprenticeship achievement rates have continued to fall, Ofsted has found in its first monitoring visit to the provider since its grade four earlier in the year.

Inspectors revisited the nation’s biggest FE provider at the end of October, and noted several improvements, while highlighting various areas of concern.

One of the most concerning findings was that its apprenticeship achievement rate has fallen again for 2016/17.

The provider’s achievement rate has dropped considerably for apprenticeships over the last three years and was at 57.8 per cent in 2015/16 – below the ESFA’s minimum standards threshold of 62 per cent and resulting in a notice of concern.

It is not yet known what Learndirect’s final overall achievement rate is for 2016/17.

“Managers of the apprenticeship provision have established successfully systems and procedures to enable them, for the first time, to be confident about how they monitor and report on the progress of apprentices,” Ofsted said.

“This improvement was not established quickly enough to prevent the final overall achievement rates for apprentices in 2016/17 being even lower than in the previous year.”

Learndirect received an overall ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted, including for apprenticeships, after it was inspected in March and had its report published in August following a judicial review.

The National Audit Office is currently investigating the provider and the Department for Education after claims that the government offered special treatment, allowing Learndirect to keep its contracts until July 2018 despite its grade four.

In its report, Ofsted heavily criticised managers at the provider and said that around a third of learners on apprenticeships “do not receive their entitlement to off-the-job learning” and fail to develop “the skills they require to progress to the next step in their career”.

Today’s monitoring visit report said it still “remains unclear” what off-the-job training has taken place at the provider.

Senior leaders have overseen the “phased introduction” of a new policy to clarify how assessors are expected to plan and record apprentices’ off-the-job training, but this did not start until two months after the grade four.

Almost half of apprentices are “identified currently as being behind target, and a further fifth are at risk of falling behind target”.

“Managers have begun to use this information to identify actions for improvement and support, but it is still too early to see the full impact of these actions.”

Inspectors did however praise directors for exerting “greater control and oversight” over the performance and quality of provision over the last few months.

“Managers have developed a set of challenging performance indicators to measure the success of their actions,” they said. “They are starting to use these effectively to manage the performance of their staff and subcontractors.”

However, the quality-improvement plans for the apprenticeship programme and the adult learning provision “do not take account of these indicators”, and are “too focused on the completion of actions and the development of processes”.

As a result, these plans “do not provide managers with an effective means to drive improvement, or a means to evaluate success”.

As previously revealed by FE Week, Learndirect was handed around £45 million to deliver adult education training despite its grade four. It is not yet known how much the provider has been given for its apprenticeship provision as it was left off of the government’s allocation spreadsheet for 2017/18.

Inspectors said the pace of improvement to Learndirect’s adult learning provision has been “quicker”, and its impact has been “greater”, than that for the apprenticeship provision.

Adult learning managers “acted quickly” to implement a range of initiatives immediately after the inspection that began to address the main areas of weakness.

They have “introduced successfully a new system for monitoring the attendance of learners, so they can now intervene more swiftly at the many centres where attendance is still too low”.

A spokesperson for Learndirect said: “The board is pleased that Ofsted has noted that performance across all the provision offered by Learndirect Limited is improving.

“While it regrets that success rates for SME Apprenticeships for 16/17 have dipped, Ofsted, the ESFA and Learndirect Limited were aware that this would be the case.

“The business is focused on ensuring the best outcome for those apprentices currently on programme and the report recognises the work done to achieve this. This has been a consistent theme in discussion between the company, the funding body and the inspectorate.”