Major apprenticeship provider to Santander goes bust after Ofsted mauling

A major new apprenticeship provider has gone bust following a scathing Ofsted monitoring report which found its directors were claiming funding for delivering little to no training.

FE Week understands the company, AMS Nationwide Ltd, had its contracts terminated by the Education and Skills Funding Agency when the findings were revealed to officials.

The private provider has now called in administrators David Rubin and Partners, and gone into voluntary liquidation.

Apprentices have been on programme for three quarters or more of their planned timeframe and completed very little work

AMS was delivering over 400 apprenticeships at the time of Ofsted’s visit, including for some levy-paying employers such as the high-street bank Santander.

Inspectors were blunt in their criticism of the training on offer: “Leaders and managers do not ensure that programmes meet the requirements of levy and non-levy-funded apprenticeships,” they said.

“Most apprentices are unaware of the components of their programme and many are unsure of the planned timeframe for their apprenticeship.”

Inspectors added that in “many cases”, apprentices have been on programme for “three quarters or more of their planned timeframe and have completed very little work”.

Learners “do not know what they need to do to meet the requirements of the programme or the end-point assessment”.

Ofsted found that managers were recruiting apprentices on “inappropriate programmes”.

Learners who have senior management roles, for example, were being put on customer service apprenticeships at level 2, and as a result, “fail to develop new knowledge, skills or behaviours”.

“Many apprentices have been in their job roles for significant periods of time and are merely accrediting the skills that they already have rather than learning new skills,” inspectors said.

AMS’ directors were slammed for chasing profit while ignoring the poor delivery.

“The board of directors has met twice since AMS became a levy and non-levy-funded provider,” inspectors said. “Directors focus on sales targets and finance during board meetings.

“Directors are unaware of the progress that apprentices make or the quality of the training that they receive.”

Critically, they did not hold leaders to account for not having “sufficient oversight of apprentices’ progress” and being “unaware of apprentices who may be at risk of not completing their programme”.

Issues with off-the-job training were also raised by Ofsted.

“Where off-the-job training is recorded, the records show that the quality of the training is not high enough and is not personalised to ensure that it meets apprentices’ individual needs or job roles,” the report stated. 

“Training advisers often complete off-the-job training records for apprentices, and they do not record the time taken to complete the training. As a result of the weaknesses in off-the-job training, apprentices fail to develop their knowledge, skills and behaviours sufficiently.”

Directors focus on sales targets and finance during board meetings

Training advisers were also criticised for not developing apprentices’ English and math skills “well enough”.

In a “few cases”, training advisers have “poor English skills, and they mark spelling, grammar and punctuation incorrectly in apprentices’ work”.

Ofsted’s report said AMS’ managing director left in June following a “staffing restructure” in April this year, and leaders made “improvements to the planning and development of apprenticeship programmes”.

The company was established in 2012 but was only accepted onto the Register of Approved Training Providers in September 2017.

Santander confirmed that AMS has gone into liquidation.

The bank told FE Week it had 32 apprentices at the time of the company going bust, but the vast majority of them had completed their training and were due to take their end-point assessments.

It added that AMS informed the bank of its decision to go into voluntary liquidation and has been cooperative and supportive to ensure apprentices complete their final qualifications.

AMS and the liquidators, David Rubin and Partners, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our priority now is to support those employers and apprentices affected to ensure they are moved to alternative high quality provision so they can successfully complete their programmes with the minimum of disruption.”

AMS’ damning Ofsted report was published on the same day of Ofsted’s annual report for 2017/18, in which chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Whenever any significant new funding is injected into a sector, some unscrupulous providers will see an opportunity to make a quick profit.”