Seventh time unlucky: Training provider rated ‘inadequate’ after six consecutive grade threes

A private provider has been hit with the lowest possible Ofsted rating after receiving six consecutive ‘requires improvement’ ratings since opening its doors.

Nottinghamshire Training Network was rated ‘inadequate’ today after the education watchdog found the “principles” of apprenticeship provision were not being met, such as apprentices not receiving their entitlement to “well-planned” off-the-job training.

Inspectors said the provider’s management of subcontractors, who deliver most programmes, is “weak”, and leaders and managers have “not remedied many of the areas of weakness identified at the previous inspection”.

The provider, which at the time of inspection had 352 apprentices, told FE Week it will now stop taking on new starts and would like to transfer this its current apprentices to another provider to complete their training.

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

Syed Jafery, managing director at NTN, said the provider is awaiting guidance and formal notification from the Education and Skills Funding Agency to advise on the next steps.

He added: “We are committed to assisting the ESFA in transitioning the remaining learners, to ensure no learner is displaced and let down by this inspection result.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We will always take action to protect the interests of apprentices. We are currently assessing Ofsted’s findings and will be contacting Nottingham Training Network to set out the action we will be taking in due course.”

NTN was incorporated in 2002 and received its first Ofsted inspection in 2008, which resulted in a grade three rating.

Since then and prior to today’s report, the provider has had five other full inspections, all of which resulted in grade three verdicts.

FE Week asked chief inspector Amanda Spielman in November how many grade three reports in a row is too many before a provider should be hit with a grade four, but she could not give an exact number.

Until recently, three grade threes in a row would automatically have qualified a provider for an ‘inadequate’ grade.

Spielman said she had changed this rule when she took over the top job at the inspectorate in January 2017 “because I thought it was flawed in conception”.

“The job of inspection is to report on what we see when we inspect,” she explained.

“To artificially say that something is ‘inadequate’ and trigger all the consequences that we know go with grade four judgments, because we want to heap up pressure, I don’t think that’s the right thing for us to do”.

In 2017, Ofsted warned NTN that leaders’ and managers’ actions to improve the weaknesses identified at previous inspections were ineffective in driving improvements in the quality of training and outcomes for apprentices.

Two years later, inspectors said leaders and managers have not remedied many of the areas of and that apprentices continue to make “slow progress”.

Its management of subcontractors came in for the most criticism.

“The information that subcontractors provide about the progress of learners and apprentices is unhelpful,” Ofsted explained.

“Different subcontractors provide reports that contain different information presented in different ways. This makes it difficult for NTN managers to gain a clear picture of what is happening. Managers are unaware of the fact that many apprentices’ programmes do not meet the requirements of apprenticeship provision.”

NTN’s effectiveness of leadership and management, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, outcome for leaners and apprenticeships provision were all rated ‘inadequate’, while its personal development, behaviour and welfare, as well as its traineeships ‘require improvement’. Its adult learning programmes were rated as ‘good’.

Jafery said he was “extremely disappointed with the outcome” and that the overall grade “does not reflect our typical delivery and experience”, but his provider was still accepting the decision.

“We are disappointed that the inspection feedback and report has relied so heavily on the judgements for apprenticeship delivery, as over the course of a year, trainees and adult learners will outweigh the number of learners on apprenticeships,” he added.

The Ofsted report did praise staff for providing “good pastoral and personal care for leaners and apprentices” and that “most trainees benefit from good work placements that help them to improve their readiness for employment”.

It also said leaders have a “strong and successful commitment” to making provision for adults in local communities who face barriers to taking part in training and development.