Ofsted’s latest inspection of Aspire Achieve Advance – which holds the largest ESFA apprenticeship allocation – is “incomplete” following intervention from the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
The inspectorate had at first confirmed on June 20 that it had inspected the provider, which is commonly known as 3aaa, in May and that nothing was amiss.
“The report is currently going through our normal processes and will be published in due course,” a spokesperson said at the time.
But there was a sudden change in the wind a day later, after Ofsted released a second statement to FE Week mentioning “new information”.
“Given new information that has come to light, we have decided to declare our inspection of Aspire Achieve Advance Limited incomplete,” a spokesperson said.
“In due course, pending further information from the EFSA, we will decide whether we need to return to the provider to gather further evidence.”
3aaa did not provide a comment on Ofsted’s decision.
Its allocation for non-levy apprenticeships now stands at nearly £22 million, up from £5.5 million at the start of the academic year.
The provider, which specialises in “professional services apprenticeships” has seen significant growth under the leadership of Peter Marples and Di McEvoy-Robinson, its chief executive and director respectively.
Direct ESFA funding increased from just £390,000 in 2012/13 to £3.6 million the following year. It rose again to £12.5 million in 2014/15 and to £21.7 million a year later.
Its apprenticeships include IT, software, digital marketing, accountancy, financial services, business administration, customer service and management.
“We are a national company offering a personalised, local service in 38 locations as we look to partner local talent and businesses together to enhance careers and the economy through workplace training,” its website states.
It is also claims to place a “huge emphasis” on employing high-quality, industry-experienced staff which means “we are able to deliver outstanding apprenticeship programmes that are developed with a focus on providing industry led skills and experience”.
It has been inspected only once before, in October 2014, receiving ‘outstanding’ ratings across the board in a report which recognised that “the vast majority of apprentices make excellent progress”.
Performance management was “very strong and, linked with excellent communications and robust quality-assurance, enables managers to pursue improvement relentlessly”.
Neither the Department for Education nor the ESFA would explain their part in Ofsted’s shock decision to delay the latest inspection.
“We don’t comment on individual cases nor on any investigations ongoing or otherwise,” said a DfE spokesperson when asked about the case.
“If and when we have concerns raised to us we would take the relevant action.”