Ofsted slams civil service apprentices scheme for inappropriate management courses

A provider that trains civil servants has been slammed by Ofsted for putting science graduates on apprenticeships that are a rebadge of its old commercial management courses – with no thought for if they need the training.

The Business Portfolio (UK) Limited (TBP), which teaches 32 apprentices employed at the government-owned National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), received “insufficient progress” ratings across the board in its first monitoring visit after winning a funding contract in 2017.

“Directors do not use the apprenticeship funding appropriately,” inspectors said.

Directors do not use the apprenticeship funding appropriately

NNL acknowledged to inspectors that the apprenticeship on offer is “broadly aligned to courses that TBP previously delivered commercially and that can now be funded through the apprenticeship levy”.

And apprentices “rightly” acknowledge the learning is not at a high enough level for their job role.

It comes a week after the National Audit Office warned that levy-paying employers are replacing graduate training schemes with apprenticeships.

“There are risks that the programme is subsidising training that would have happened without government funding,” it said.

In December, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman also raised concerns about graduate scheme rebadging, with levy funds being spent on higher level apprenticeships at the expense of young people on lower levels.

TBP has been the NNL’s training provider since 2017, with one person assigned to deliver the apprenticeship training for the laboratory, which is governed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

All apprentices are working towards a level 5 leadership and management programme.

Inspectors found TBP does not take account of prior learning, which is a breach of Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) rules.

“Directors’ curriculum planning is poor,” Ofsted explained. “They give insufficient attention to apprentices’ previous training and career aspirations when designing the curriculum.

“Directors ensure that apprentices develop substantial new vocational knowledge, skills and behaviours.

“All apprentices study the same topics despite their previously acquired knowledge and skills.”

As a result, “too many” apprentices make “slow progress, despite their high achievements at university”.

The ESFA warned providers on Monday they could be audited to ensure apprenticeship courses take into account a learner’s prior learning, and reiterated that funding “may be recovered” if a provider is found not doing this.

Asked if the Department for Education was considering terminating TBP’s funding contract, a spokesperson said: “We will always take action to protect apprentices if a training provider is not fit for purpose.

“We are currently assessing Ofsted’s findings and will be in contact with the provider to set out the action we will be taking in due course.”

An NNL spokesperson said: “We are aware of the Ofsted report and are reading it carefully.

“Our aim is always to work with suppliers of the highest quality, and we will be discussing our future relationship with the Business Portfolio (UK) Limited in the near future.”

It would not be the first time an apprenticeship provider that trains government employees has lost its funding contract following a negative Ofsted monitoring visit.

All apprentices study the same topics despite their previously acquired knowledge and skills

Last November, Premier People Solutions Limited, which delivered apprenticeships to the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs, and the UK Visas and Immigration service, had its funding terminated after inspectors warned its recruitment procedures were “not safe enough” and too many apprentices were prevented from receiving off-the-job training.

This was also an issue at TBP, where inspectors found its directors do not ensure apprentices receive their full entitlement to “frequent and high-quality” off-the-job training.

Ofsted also reported that directors do not have a clearly defined strategy to develop apprentices’ English, maths and ICT skills because they assumed, as the apprentices are all graduates, no further training was needed.

On top of this, TBP only has one designated safeguarding officer, a company director, but apprentices are unaware of this.

A small company, TBP only registers two people in its 2017/18 accounts and assets of under £22,000.

A spokesperson for the provider said: “We note the report from the Ofsted monitoring visit published this week and will work with all our partners, including the ESFA, to determine the way forward to ensure we deliver quality programmes for all apprentices.”