Ofsted warned before annual report of worsening employer provider performance

Ofsted has been warned before the launch of its annual report that it will need to “work hard” to drive up standards among employer-providers, whose overall performance has got even worse.

There were 20 employer-providers inspected by Ofsted in 2016/17, and a disappointing 55 per cent received a grade three or four, below the level effectively considered a pass in the report, which is due tomorrow morning.

One was rated ‘inadequate’, 10 came in as ‘requires improvement’, six were rated ‘good’ and three were ‘outstanding’.

That was even worse than the previous academic year, when 16 employer providers were inspected. Half were given either a grade three or four.

Employer providers inspected in 2015/16

It is already an area of concern for Ofsted. It issued a warning about employer providers in its 2015/16 annual report, which didn’t separate their figures from independent training providers.

“In most of the employer providers inspected last year, inspectors continued to find that employers do not know enough about the requirements of an apprenticeship, and do not provide enough off-the-job training to ensure that apprentices develop the skills they need,” it said.

“Employer providers must ensure that their apprenticeship provision is good,” it added. “This year, three new employer-providers were inspected for the first time and all three were found to require improvement.”

The Association of Colleges’ deputy chief executive Julian Gravatt spoke out after seeing our analysis of the results over the past two years.

He said the decision to “significantly increase the role of employer-providers” means that Ofsted is going to have to “work hard” to ensure learners “reach the same high standards that are expected in all other parts of the publicly funded system.”

Our analysis previously found that 69 per cent of general FE colleges were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by August 31. The figure for sixth-form colleges was 81 per cent.

Seven general FE colleges subsequently managed to dig themselves out of failing grades in the early part 2017/18, but this success is not expected to be recognised in the report, which will only look at inspections published in 2016/17.

The register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP) now has 209 employer-providers on it, as well as others which list themselves simply as main providers.

Five of the employer-providers were inspected for the first time in 2016/17: Pizza Hut, Walsall NHS Trust, Momentum Training and Consultancy, Be Wiser Insurance Services and Nottingham City Transport.

Of these five, only Momentum Training and Consultancy was ‘good’; the others – 80 per cent – were all graded ‘requires improvement’.

All the grade threes were contacted for comment by FE Week. Walsall NHS Trust said it is “currently working on a quality improvement programme” with the support of an Ofsted inspector.

“Being a good-quality apprenticeship provider is not an easy option as many new providers discover, including employers,” said AELP boss Mark Dawe.

“AELP supports its provider membership to ensure they understand what it takes to achieve a ‘good’ and will support those on that journey.”

The government has repeatedly expressed its desire to put employers “in the driving seat” as it implements its skills agenda, as it feels they are best qualified to decide on what training their staff need. It has supported an expansion in the number of employer-providers.

A Department for Education spokesperson said that every provider on RoATP had to meet a “clear set of criteria” in order to receive funds for apprenticeship training, ensuring providers are “high quality and capable of delivering the training young people deserve”.

“The Education and Skills Funding Agency has the power to take action to remove a provider from the register if it is not meeting the expected standards,” he continued.