Apprenticeship provider to church community groups exposed by Ofsted

A London-based training provider worked with employers who did not recognise the names of their apprentices, according to a damning Ofsted report which rated it ‘inadequate’ in every category.

Inspectors found that Touchstone Education Solutions Ltd, which has Education and Skills funding Agency contracts totalling more than £2 million, also does not withdraw learners in a “timely manner” which leads to funding claims continuing after they’ve left their courses.

The Ofsted report said the provider recruits the vast majority of its 450 learners and apprentices from church community groups at its sites in Woolwich, Greenwich and Leeds.

As well as apprenticeships in care management, Touchstone offers adult learning programmes paid for via advance learner loans in health and social care, access to higher education (nursing), business administration and childcare, and functional skills courses in maths and English.

Ofsted said the delivery of all of this provision was insufficient, and leaders, governors and managers “do not have an accurate view of the quality of the programmes and do not have effective plans in place to make improvements”.

The biggest concern was around the provider’s management of data.

“File management is very weak and records about learners are very poor, with missing or inaccurate information,” inspectors found.

“Leaders are too slow to withdraw those learners and apprentices who have asked to be taken off their programme. Consequently, claims for funding continue to be made for apprentices who are no longer in learning.”

They added: “Too employers do not know how much progress their apprentices make. Some employers did not recognise the names of the apprentices who, according to the apprenticeship files, are supposed to be with them.

“Leaders do not ensure that the programmes meet the apprenticeship requirements or that apprentices receive their entitlement to off-the-job training.”

Touchstone has “very weak systems” for tracking learner progress. “Leaders do not have an accurate view of how well learners and apprentices progress towards the achievement of their qualifications,” Ofsted said.

The inspectorate also found that plagiarism is an issue at the provider.

“The quality of learners’ and apprentices’ work is not consistently of a good standard and too often there are discrepancies in submitted work,” inspectors said.

“These include work that was completed a year before the learner started the course, work that did not show how assessment criteria were met, and work from learners that contained almost identical answers.

“Consequently, assessed and formally accredited work cannot be reliably attributed to individual learners, a few of whom have received qualification certificates.”

The report noted that in 2017/18, the provider’s data shows that the majority of adult learners who took level 3 qualifications in health and social care achieved them, but the proportion who achieved within the planned time was very low.

However, the “concerns about the reliability of assessed and accredited work in learners’ portfolios raises questions about the validity of the provider’s achievement data for 2017/18”.

On top of this, arrangements for safeguarding adult learners and apprentices are “ineffective”.

Leaders “fail to carry out risk assessments to identify vulnerable adults or make sufficient checks on the suitability of the staff that they employ,” inspectors said.

“Learners and apprentices do not have a sufficient understanding of the dangers associated with extremism and radicalisation.”

As it has been rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, Touchstone will now be removed from the register of apprenticeship training providers and banned from delivering its own apprenticeships. The ESFA is also likely to terminate all of its other skills contracts with the provider.

Touchstone was approached for comment.