Mysterious apprenticeship provider judged 'insufficient' by Ofsted following FE Week exposé

A provider that received over £16 million in three years from college subcontracting deals has been exposed by Ofsted for delivering ‘insufficient’ apprenticeships which exclude employers and lack scrutiny.

FE Week revealed in November the mysterious way in which SCL Security Ltd has operated as a subcontractor for many years, delivering hundreds of apprenticeships for mostly 16- to 18-year-olds for Brooklands College despite employing fewer than 10 people.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency acted following our exposé, and starts were suspended at the provider last month while it carries out an investigation.

Apprentices do not know what progress they are making

FE Week’s findings also triggered an Ofsted monitoring visit to SCL Security, and its report was published today which resulted in two ‘insufficient progress’ ratings.

“Leaders and managers do not ensure that the programme they offer meets the requirements of an apprenticeship,” the education watchdog found.

“Apprentices do not receive sufficient off-the-job time to complete their studies and do not know what progress they are making.

“SCL staff do not plan apprentices’ training programmes of study well enough to meet individual apprentices’ needs. All apprentices are currently expected to complete their apprenticeships in the same timeframe irrespective of their previous experience, skills or level of training.”

SCL Security is run by Andrew Merritt and began to receive public funding in its own right in May 2017.

At the time of Ofsted’s monitoring visit in January, it had 27 apprentices on programmes including in health and social care and IT, with a further six on breaks in learning. Most are aged over 24.

Today’s report said that SCL Security employs three part-time external quality improvement consultants to manage the provision.

But leaders at the provider “do not check the quality of provision effectively”, and their evaluation of it is “overly positive”.

Quality assurance of the apprenticeship programme is also “not effective”.

“Managers do not have a good enough oversight to hold staff to account or to know what progress apprentices make,” Ofsted’s report said.

“Leaders have not implemented any governance arrangements and, as a result, do not receive sufficient challenge or scrutiny regarding the programmes of training.”

It also revealed that the provider does not take into account prior learning for individual apprentices.

“Managers and staff, including assessors, do not take into account the skills, knowledge and behaviours that apprentices already have prior to starting their programme.”

Apprentices are also not made aware of the “requirements of the end-point assessment or the different grades they could achieve in their qualifications”.

As a result, they “do not aim for higher levels of achievement”.

SCL Security’s leaders do not involve employers and line managers “sufficiently in apprentices’ training”, Ofsted found.

With this sound basis and Ofsted’s support, we are confident for the future

“Employers are not included in the planning or delivery of training. In most cases, employers are not aware of the progress apprentices make and are not able to support them to develop new skills and knowledge at work.”

Inspectors also reported that the planning and delivery of training to improve apprentices’ English and maths skills “is weak”.

Ofsted did however find that leaders at SCL Security have made sure that the apprentices they enrol are “suitable for an apprenticeship and select them with integrity”.

Safeguarding is also effective.

Mr Merritt said: “Highlighting areas where improvement is needed, is always sound advice.

“The inspectors noted that SCL ensures that the apprentices are suitable and selected with integrity, the apprentices are safe, they feel safe and the employers benefit from the contributions their apprentices make to their businesses.

“The apprentices receive good personal support from their tutors and as a result, gain confidence in their job roles.”

He added that with this “sound basis and Ofsted’s support, we are confident for the future”.