Ofsted to ‘expose’ rip-off subcontracting top-slices

Ofsted to 'expose' rip-off subcontracting top-slices

Ofsted will expose training providers who rip-off apprentices by collecting subcontracting management fees without taking “responsibility for quality”, the chief inspector has revealed.

Amanda Spielman made the promise in a fierce speech at FE Week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference, warning prime providers that the inspectorate would not stand idly by while poor provision goes unmonitored.

“Our message here is simple: as the direct contract holder, you are responsible for your learners,” she told delegates.

“If you subcontract, for whatever reason, you are still responsible for making sure your apprentice gets high-quality training.

As the direct contract holder, you are responsible for your learners

“If you are sitting back and collecting the money without taking proper responsibility for quality, you are failing your apprentices. We are determined to expose this in the system.”

Ofsted is preparing to publish its first monitoring visits looking specifically at subcontracted provision of directly funded providers.

“We expect the first of these to be published in the next couple of weeks,” Ms Spielman said.

Subcontracting has been a hot topic for all in the sector over the past few years.

Lead providers often claim that steep fees are needed to cover administrative costs, but many, including the education committee chair Robert Halfon, believe that too much money is being siphoned out of frontline learning.

Some management fees have reached up to 40 per cent, as was infamously the case with Learndirect, the largest provider in the country.

Mr Halfon claimed that subcontracting had become a “money-maker” during an education select committee earlier this month.

Ms Spielman also discussed Ofsted’s approach to monitoring “untested” new providers which have entered the apprenticeships market.

“I know that many of you have concerns about the number of untested providers entering the market and the effect this could have on quality,” she said.

“Well, rest assured we are not standing idly by and waiting for new providers to fail.

“It is essential that poor-quality provision is spotted and tackled quickly, so that it doesn’t damage an individual’s prospects or the overall apprenticeship brand.”

Rest assured we are not standing idly by and waiting for new providers to fail

She mentioned the early monitoring visits that have been used to assess the quality of these new providers, the first of which was published last week – and made for embarrassing reading for bosses at Key6 Group.

Inspectors described the Merseyside-provider as “not fit for purpose”, where apprentices complained they are “not learning anything new”.

The report was so dire that the skills minister Anne Milton intervened personally to prevent the provider from taking on any new apprentices.

However, Ms Spielman insisted that a single report should not be taken as a sign that every new provider is similarly inept.

“It is important that we don’t over-interpret this one result as a judgment on all new providers coming on stream with the levy,” she told the conference.

“We are doing more monitoring visits of this type. And I very much hope that positive results will significantly outnumber the disappointments.”