The apprenticeship provision at two ‘new’ providers hangs in the balance while the government reviews their early Ofsted monitoring visit reports that accused them of making ‘insufficient progress’ in some areas.
Entrust Support Services Limited, a joint-venture company between Capita and Staffordshire County Council, was deemed to be making poor headway in two of the three fields judged, while Unique Training Solutions Limited, based in Hertfordshire, was ‘insufficient’ in one area.
Under new ESFA rules, any provider with an ‘insufficient’ rating in at least one theme being reviewed will immediately be banned from taking on any new apprentices – either directly or through a subcontracting arrangement – until the grade improves.
We will write to the provider about the next steps shortly
The agency can only overrule this guidance if it “identifies an exceptional extenuating circumstance”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education told FE Week it was “currently looking at” both report findings, which were published this week, and will “write to the providers about the next steps shortly”.
Entrust, which launched in 2013 and started to offer publicly funded apprenticeships in 2017, was slammed by Ofsted for weak governance.
“Governance and oversight of the apprenticeship programme by Entrust’s operational board is insufficiently thorough,” inspectors said.
“Directors meet monthly and receive regular operational-performance reports from the various heads of service responsible for key business units including apprenticeships. However, the information that is presented to them focuses almost entirely on contractual compliance, and financial and business-development matters.”
Managers also “do not monitor or report on all aspects of apprenticeship performance and quality” while “planning for the standards-based apprenticeships is not good for all programmes”.
But there were also some positives at the provider.
“The joint venture board has established a well-informed multi-year strategic business plan that provides a clear focus for Entrust and for measuring its growth against a shared vision and a set of contracted-service commitments,” inspectors said.
Leaders’ plans for improving the provision are “detailed”, and programme leaders “monitor effectively the progress that individual apprentices make in developing new knowledge, skills and behaviours”.
An Entrust spokesperson welcomed the findings of the report, which “provides a helpful guide to our progress”.
“As the report states, our apprenticeship programme leaders are well qualified and provide good educational and vocational support,” she said.
“It also highlights areas where we need to improve, and we have already taken steps to address the concerns raised, including introducing changes to the way our leadership team evaluates the apprenticeship programme to drive continuous improvement.”
Philip White, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for learning and employability, added: “We understand Entrust are awaiting information from the ESFA regarding the status of any future apprenticeships, but we believe that Entrust are in a good position to deliver on their commitments and provide a high quality apprenticeship service.”
Unique Training Solutions Limited started training publicly funded apprentices in June 2017.
When Ofsted went knocking to monitor its performance as a ‘new’ provider, the inspectorate found it was making ‘insufficient progress’ in meeting all the requirements of successful apprenticeship provision, and ‘reasonable progress’ in ensuring training is of “high quality” as well as safeguarding.
“Leaders have been slow to implement actions to assess the quality of provision, given the rapid growth in the number of apprenticeships in recent months,” Ofsted said.
“Leaders do not have comprehensive improvement arrangements in place to ensure that the quality of provision is at least good.”
But leaders were praised for collaborating with employers “very effectively to plan apprenticeship programmes that aim to meet the needs of the care services that they provide”.
“Staff have significant expertise to train apprentices in health and care,” inspectors also pointed out.
“The large majority of apprentices make good progress in developing their knowledge, practical skills and behaviours to improve and increase the contributions they make in the workplace.”
Unique Training Solutions Limited was approached for comment.