Anne Milton has stepped in to stop a provider from taking on any new apprentices, after it was criticised in Ofsted’s first early-monitoring visit report on a newcomer to apprenticeships.
The apprenticeships minister made it clear that the government had decided swift action was needed against Merseyside’s Key6 Group.
“All apprenticeship training must be fit for purpose,” she said. “We have stopped Key6 Group from taking on any new apprentices following Ofsted’s findings.
“The provider must now show us how they plan to improve, and we will monitor their progress. I also want to see them immediately address the safeguarding issues highlighted in the report.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education added that it will “always take action to protect apprentices if a training provider is not fit for purpose”.
“Employers are free to move their apprentices if they are dissatisfied with the quality of apprenticeship provision or responsiveness of their existing providers.”
The inspectorate’s brutal criticism of Key6 was particularly striking because it has high-profile apprenticeship levy contracts with Liverpool Football Club and charity giant Mencap.
The charity said it had been “disappointed with the quality of training and other aspects of apprenticeship provision”, and it is now “in the process of assessing” contractual options”.
Liverpool FC confirmed it is aware of Ofsted’s report but declined to comment.
The troubled provider joined the government’s register of apprenticeship training providers last March.
Inspectors heard apprentices complain they were “not learning anything new on their apprenticeship”.
Instead, they “shoehorn existing work in a portfolio to get a free qualification”.
“The large majority of apprentices are not even aware that they are an apprentice, and identify themselves as studying a level five management course,” the report said, while safeguarding arrangements “are not effective”.
“Directors have failed to ensure that the designated safeguarding officer has received the appropriate training to allow her to execute fully the role,” Ofsted added.
Dr Jerry Grundy, the group’s director of education, refuted the safeguarding criticism in particular.
“Holding overall responsibility for Key6’s safeguarding, I have over a decade’s experience as a headmaster of two schools; my practical experience of dealing with complex safeguarding issues is extensive.
“In addition, another of Key6’s directors is currently the independent chair of three local safeguarding children boards, one local safeguarding adults board and a member of the National Association of Local Safeguarding Children Boards.
“This information was all provided to the inspectors at the time of the monitoring visit.”
Craig Pankhurst, the provider’s managing director, has complained to Ofsted about the report.
He said there had been “positive dialogue” with the ESFA, and welcomed “their advice and guidance”.
“We understood the Ofsted monitoring visit to be developmental and balanced. The lack of either forms part of the reason for Key6’s complaint,” Pankhurst said.
Chief inspector Amanda Spielman announced last November that Ofsted would conduct early monitoring visits at new apprenticeship providers to look out for “scandalous” attempts to waste public money.
Today’s report was the first example of the tougher new approach, and it will send out a warning to other new providers that they need to deliver on quality.