Another early monitoring report uncovers insufficient progress

Another Ofsted early monitoring visit to an apprenticeship provider has resulted in a verdict of ‘insufficient progress’ in at least one area – but the Department for Education has refused to say whether it will take action.

The watchdog’s report into Mears Learning is the fourth of the 11 monitoring reports so far published to have found a provider is below-par in at least one area.

Leaders at Mears Learning, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the housing and social care provider Mears Group, were deemed not to be meeting all the requirements of successful apprenticeship provision.

It joins a rogue’s gallery of Key6 Group, Mooreskills, and Apprentice Team in failing to come up to scratch.

“We will always take action to protect apprentices if a training provider is not fit for purpose,” a spokesperson for the DfE said.

It is “assessing Ofsted’s findings” and will contact the provider to “set out any action we will be taking”.

FE Week exclusively reported last week that Ofsted will have the final say over apprenticeship quality, after the government was embarrassed on accountability at a select committee hearing earlier this month.

Skills minister Anne Milton, along with officials from the Education and Skills Funding Agency and Ofsted, admitted they weren’t quite sure who is responsible for policing apprenticeships.

They were responding to a series of questions about the ESFA’s decision to allow Key6 Group to continue to recruit apprentices just two months after Ofsted branded its provision “not fit for purpose”.

“I think the relationship between the ESFA and Ofsted over quality is quite difficult to define and I think we need to define that more clearly,” Ms Milton admitted.

Once it comes into effect, the change will give Ofsted the final word on quality: a monitoring visit resulting in an ‘insufficient progress’ verdict will see a provider booted off the register of apprenticeship training providers.

The visits to new apprenticeship providers are intended to sniff out “scandalous” attempts to waste public money.

So far 11 have been published – the majority for providers that aren’t actually new to apprenticeships.

It’s not clear if Mears Learning is one of these.

Founded in 2015, it started delivering levy-funded apprenticeships in May 2017.

Prior to that it subcontracted for a number of providers, including RNN Group and CITB. However, it’s not clear if any of this was for apprenticeships.

Mears Learning has been approached for a comment.

According to the report, the provider currently has 53 apprentices, all of which are Mears Group employees, on courses in leadership and management, gas engineering and construction.

Leaders’ “self-assessment of the quality of provision and their quality improvement planning” are “not sufficiently evaluative”.

Furthermore, the self-assessment report failed to identify “areas of weakness well enough”, while “actions in the quality improvement plan are not specific enough”.

“As a result, improvements to the quality of provision are too slow,” the report said.

Leaders were also criticised for failing to “take enough action to improve the practice of teaching staff”.

However, the report was more positive on other aspects of the provision.

Leaders ensured that “apprentices receive their entitlement to on- and off-the-job training”, while “teachers and assessors are well qualified and all have relevant industry experience”.

The provider was found to be making “reasonable progress” in establishing and maintaining high-quality apprenticeship provision, and in ensuring that safeguarding arrangements were effective.