Questions surround DfE’s ability to ban poor HE apprenticeship providers

Banning ‘insufficient’ new providers from recruiting apprentices may not be as simple as once thought, as confusion appears to surround the case of a private university.

 BPP University, part of the global BPP Professional Education Group, was warned it was making poor progress in an early monitoring visit report of its apprenticeship provision from Ofsted last week.

The results of the report, which warned that managers were not aware of the “slow progress” made by apprentices, means that BPP University faces being banned from recruiting any new apprentices until a full inspection of its provision can be carried out.

 However, BPP appears on the register of apprenticeship training providers four times. As well as BPP University, it has the approved providers of BPP Holdings, BPP Professional Education and BPP Actuarial Education.

BPP would not comment on whether it would simply be able to switch BPP University’s allocation of apprenticeships to another one of its providers in the case of a ban.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education confirmed that no decision had been made yet on whether BPP University would be barred, but said the other BPP entities are counted separately to BPP University and would not be affected by the outcome of the monitoring visit.

 She said: “We will always take action to protect the interests of apprentices. We are currently assessing Ofsted’s findings and will be contacting BPP University to set out the action we will be taking in due course.”

Another question mark remains over whether any ban would include all of BPP University’s apprenticeship provision. The monitoring inspection only took into account programmes ranging from level two to level five, but the university also offers some courses at levels six and seven.

However, these higher apprenticeships are outside of Ofsted’s remit and are the responsibility of the Office for Students. The OfS is in charge of checking the quality of apprenticeships at levels six and seven, but does this in a risk assessment as part of its annual provider review rather than taking part in monitoring visits.

Some of their apprenticeships, such as the level 7 accountancy and taxation professional standard, which do not have a prescribed degree element, are worryingly completely unmonitored, as revealed by FE Week this week.

A spokesperson for the OfS said the body was “aware of the issue” with monitoring visits and was “actively working with Ofsted and the DfE to address it and ensure all apprenticeships are of high quality”.

Rather than automatically banning any provider who is found to be making ‘insufficient progress’ from also recruiting for levels six and seven, she said it would “depend on the individual provider circumstances”.

 “In the case where a provider was judged to be insufficient by Ofsted and they also offered apprenticeships within our remit, we would work with Ofsted and the DfE to address it,” she said.

“We’re working with the DfE already to develop a process that will ensure consistency and quality of standards of apprenticeships.”

 So far, all 16 apprenticeship providers found to be making ‘insufficient progress’ in at least one area up until October 11 have been barred from recruiting new apprentices until their next full inspection.

The Education and Skills Funding Agencies can overrule the ban, but only if it “identifies an exceptional extenuating circumstance”.