OfS to inspect quality of unregulated apprentices despite Augar recommendation

The government has already rejected one recommendation put forward by the Augar Review – by giving the Office for Students responsibility for overseeing thousands of higher level apprenticeships that currently go unregulated.

FE Week revealed in November that firms offering level 6 and 7 apprenticeships without a prescribed HE qualification, such as a degree, had nobody checking their quality of delivery if they weren’t on the OfS’ register of higher education providers. Ofsted’s remit only extends to level 5.

After calls for this gap in oversight to be urgently fixed, and months of deliberation, this newspaper understands the Department for Education has given the job to the OfS instead of Ofsted.

One regulator should inspect apprenticeship provision at all levels

The decision comes despite the post-18 education review panel, led by Dr Philip Augar (pictured), recommending that Ofsted should become the lead responsible body for inspecting apprenticeships at all levels.

When the review was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May in February 2018 it was first thought the findings would act as final decisions and be implemented as policy in the government’s upcoming spending review.

But following May’s resignation it is expected they will now only be treated as recommendations, much to the frustration of further education leaders, as the review made a strong case for greater investment in the sector.

The OfS decision will act as the first piece of solid evidence that the proposals will fall on deaf ears when the new prime minister is appointed. 

The Augar Report, which described the lack of oversight for the higher level apprenticeships in question as an “important gap in coverage”, stated: “At present, both the OfS and Ofsted are expected to have the necessary expertise to ensure the quality assurance of apprenticeship provision which we believe is wasteful.

“One regulator should inspect apprenticeship provision at all levels to ensure consistency in standards and in-house expertise.

“We believe this should be Ofsted, thus maintaining a single knowledge hub for apprenticeship quality.”

It added: “This would reduce duplication and the risk of providers being overlooked. While we recognise this may not be welcome by some higher education institutions, we believe a sole inspection body is vital when new and untested providers are entering the market and offering provision at a variety of levels.”

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman expressed her deep concern at the issue of unregulated apprenticeships during an interview with FE Week in March: “There are places that go completely unscrutinised because they don’t come within OfS arrangements and they don’t come within our space,” she said.

Asked at the time if she would like Ofsted to inspect the provision, she added: “I very much hope people will see the logic in us doing it.”

Asked this week if the inspectorate was disappointed that the DfE had opted to give the OfS the job, an Ofsted spokesperson said: “This is clearly a matter for the Department for Education, but we are content with our ongoing arrangements to inspect apprenticeships up to level 5.”

Amanda Spielman

FE Week approached the OfS to find out how it plans to regulate the higher level apprenticeships if the provider offering them is not on its HE register, but a spokesperson said they could not comment until the DfE makes a formal announcement.

The DfE said it was planning to announce a decision shortly, but could not say when.

The OfS employs a “risk-based approach to quality assurance defined by a high-quality threshold for entry and regulates all provision at all providers on the OfS Register,” a spokesperson told FE Week in November.

“Providers who are accepted on to the register will have met a high threshold for quality and standards and will be monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that quality is maintained.”

The Quality Assurance Agency then conducts external annual provider reviews of HE institutions for the OfS, including those that deliver apprenticeships.

However, these are not official inspections of the type Ofsted conducts.