3aaa told staff to leave dates off paperwork and not to tell customers about new starts ban

Crisis-hit Aspire Achieve Advance has been telling its staff to not date any paperwork for “planned enrolments” in the midst of a government suspension on recruiting apprentices.

Employees at the apprenticeship giant, better known as 3aaa, were also instructed not to tell current and prospective employers that the ban has been placed upon it.

The provider has denied any wrongdoing.

Emails sent to staff on Monday morning (September 17), seen by FE Week, have exposed the activity at the training provider which is subject to an ongoing ESFA investigation.

No apprentices have been enrolled since the suspension

3aaa’s new managing director Richard Irons, who took over running the company on Monday after co-founders Peter Marples and Di McEvoy-Robinson resigned, provided staff with a company update.

This informed them of the departures of Mr Marples and Ms McEvoy-Robinson. It then stated that Mr Irons had “taken the decision with the support of the board to pause all enrolments until I am fully comfortable with all elements of our activities”.

This is despite 3aaa confirming to FE Week the following day that it was in fact the ESFA who told the provider to stop taking on new starters.

Mr Irons added: “I expect this process to take approximately one month and we should plan on the basis that enrolments will restart no later than 1st November.”

A subsequent communication made by a different 3aaa boss said they had been “instructed” to tell seniors to inform other staff not to tell clients that the provider has been barred from enrolling new apprenticeship starts, and not to date any paperwork associated with “planned enrolments”.

FE Week has meanwhile been contacted by other businesses this week who claim 3aaa has been calling them to offer new apprenticeships despite the suspension, which is not guaranteed to be lifted.

A spokesperson for 3aaa did not deny the instructions went out to staff, but offered the following statement published here in full: “3aaa has agreed a suspension of apprentice enrolments with the ESFA.

“As a result, when current employers or potential employers of apprentices contact us we explain the situation with regard to the freeze.

“We can confirm that, in accordance with the agreement with the ESFA, no apprentices have been enrolled since the suspension.”

It is understood that the pause in starts will not be lifted at least until Ofsted’s inspection of the provider has been completed.

Mr Irons’ company update revealed that the provider is expecting a visit in the next few weeks, but it won’t be another full inspection.

“As you are aware, we are yet to receive our final Ofsted report and we continue to have positive engagement with both Ofsted and the ESFA,” he said.

This is an exciting time for the business

“We expect that Ofsted will revisit the business in the next few weeks to review the final 2017-18 data before our report is issued. We are not expecting a full re-inspection and this process will be in parallel with filing our critical 2017-18 period 14 submission mid-October.”

He concludes by saying: “This is an exciting time for the business during which the senior management team and I look forward to working with you closely over the coming weeks to help define the future.”

3aaa had the largest allocation for non-levy apprenticeships last year at nearly £22 million. Its overall ESFA allocations totalled more than £31 million.

In June FE Week revealed that 3aaa’s latest Ofsted inspection, which was expected to result in another “outstanding” rating, had been declared incomplete following intervention from the ESFA after claims by a whistleblower.

A month later it was revealed that an independent auditor, Alyson Gerner, had been called in by the Department for Education to investigate its own funding agency over their contract management of 3aaa.

When asked what action the agency would take following this latest revelation, a DfE spokesperson said: “We do not comment on any investigations, ongoing or otherwise.”