Kick poor-performing new providers off RoATP, education committee urges

Poor-performing apprenticeship providers should be kicked off the government’s register – not just barred from taking on new starts, the education select committee has urged.

It made the call in its new report, ‘The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity’, published today, based on the findings of its recent inquiry.

The report outlines a series of recommendations aimed at improving the quality of apprenticeships and making them more accessible to people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We recommend that new providers judged by Ofsted to be making insufficient progress should be removed from the register of apprenticeship training providers,” it said.

“A provider whose only mark of distinction is a failing grade from Ofsted has no business providing government-funded training.”

In August the education watchdog was given greater powers to stop new providers found to be making ‘insufficient progress’ in a monitoring visit from taking on new apprentices.

The move followed embarrassment for the government at an inquiry hearing in May, in which skills minister Anne Milton admitted there was a lack of clarity over who was responsible for apprenticeship quality – Ofsted or the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

“While we welcome this greater clarity, we do not think it goes far enough,” today’s report said.

“There has been an explosion in the number of training providers in recent years but neither employers nor apprentices can have genuine confidence that quality training is being provided by these new entrants,” said Robert Halfon, chair of the education committee (pictured above).

Today’s report also pressed the government to do more to ensure all the agencies responsible for the apprenticeship system have enough cash to do their job properly, after hearing that “several” of these bodies – including the ESFA, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Ofsted – lacked capacity.

“Given the government’s doubling of apprenticeship funding, it seems strange that such concerns have been allowed to grow and endure,” it said.

Other recommendations include a cap on the number of starts a new provider can have until Ofsted has deemed it to be making at least ‘reasonable progress’ in all areas.

It also called for greater flexibility in the 20 per cent off-the-job training requirement, tighter controls on subcontracting – including a cap on management fees and more Ofsted inspections of subcontractors – and the creation of a social justice fund to support organisations that help disadvantaged young people become apprentices.

The report also criticised the IfA, which it said had “at times appeared more successful at uniting stakeholders in opposition that anything else”.

It is tasked with ensuring that apprenticeships offer value for money, but “our concern is that value for money is becoming a synonym for cheaper,” today’s report said.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said he was “particularly heartened” by this observation.

“As the MPs say, high quality provision costs and setting funding bands so low as to reduce the quality of training or dissuade employers from recruiting apprentices is a false economy,” he said.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute agreed with the report’s view that “much progress has been made on apprenticeships, but that we need to turbocharge our efforts to boost quality and widen access”

He described the call for a social justice fund as “spot on” as “current efforts lack sufficient ambition”.

Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said today’s report “raises a lot of interesting and valid points” but that “more needs to be done”.

Doubling the amount of time that employers have to spend their levy funds – another recommendation from the report – “does not fix the problem; it just kicks it into the long grass,” he said.

“It is essential that apprenticeship training is of high-quality. We have given Ofsted additional funding so it can hold the rising numbers of training providers to account. Of those registered providers that have been inspected, 83 per cent were rated as good or outstanding. Any provider that falls short of the required standards will be removed from our register and stopped from taking on new apprentices until they have improved,” Ms Milton said.

“We will look at the report with interest as we want to make our apprenticeship system work even better,” she said.

“We will respond to the report in full in the near future,” Ms Milton added.