Employer provider hits buffers after Ofsted found failure to take account of prior learning

A new apprenticeship provider has been judged to be making ‘insufficient progress’ after Ofsted found it did not take into account learners’ previous qualifications when putting them on programme.

Inspectors reported that many of Agincare Group Limited’s 173 apprentices already had a high depth of knowledge and experience prior to starting their apprenticeship and the provider does not know whether they “require adjustments to their planned learning activities and timescales”.

The watchdog’s monitoring visit to the Dorset company, which has an apprenticeship arm called Training Now that delivers the training, found it had made ‘insufficient progress’ in meeting all the requirements of successful apprenticeship provision and in ensuring apprentices benefit from high-quality training that leads to positive outcomes.

By not accounting for its apprentices’ prior learning, Agincare could be in breach of Education and Skills Funding Agency funding rules, which requires the provider to calculate the appropriated funding reduction. And if the revised course fell below the one year minimum with 20 percent off-the-job training it would be ineligible for funding.

“We may take action to recover apprenticeship funding where this happens,” the ESFA rules for 2018/19 warn.

The report comes on the tails of the Department for Education tendering a contract to research whether employers are adapting training and the associated costs to take into account the prior learning of apprentices, as revealed by FE Week earlier this month.

Agincare is not the first provider to be found failing to take prior learning into account: in her annual report for 2018, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman highlighted how apprentices were “not learning anything new”, but were just getting accreditation for knowledge and skills they already had.

Agincare has around 2,800 staff delivering care services to 2,400 people in over 50 locations across the south west and nine regions.

It became an apprenticeship provider in 2017, when it established Training Now. Their apprentices are on programmes in health and social care at levels two, three and five, as well as business administration programmes at levels three and five.

Inspectors found “they do not know whether apprentices who have previously achieved a qualification, at the same level as the apprenticeship, require adjustments to their planned learning activities and timescales” and assessors “do not identify their skills, knowledge and experiences at the start of the apprenticeship programme well enough.”

In addition, some apprentices are not given a review of their training that clearly identifies the progress they are making, or checks their understanding of the learning. Inspectors also said some apprentices do not understand the requirements of their course, including both assessments and off-the-job training.

However, despite the failure to account for prior learning, inspectors found most of the apprentices on Agincare’s care and business courses improve their existing practical skills and theoretical knowledge during the apprenticeship.

Assessors make frequent visits to apprentices at the workplace and provide them with effective support between visits, so apprentices can raise queries or concerns.

The inspectors observed that apprentices value the support and guidance they receive from their assessors, particularly in one-to-one sessions, when assessors check apprentices’ understanding of their subject knowledge with a “skilful” use of questions.

This helps apprentices studying health and social care improve their knowledge of caring for those with dementia, and of stroke care.

Furthermore, the provider’s leadership are developing partnerships with two nearby FE colleges to improve their apprentice’s progression and career opportunities.

Aside from the two ‘insufficient progress’ reports, Agincare was found to be making reasonable progress in ensuring effective safeguarding measures are in place.

But owing to the ‘insufficient’ ratings, the provider is likely to be suspended from taking on new apprentices until it improves the grade, in accordance with ESFA rules.

An Agincare spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the outcome of our recent first monitoring inspection.

“We were aware of the elements picked up in the Ofsted report and were already delivering a plan to address the shortcomings but it was too early to make a judgement on the impact of improvements to learners at the time of the inspection.

“We are committed to achieving our action plan as soon as possible.”