Over 1,300 apprentices left without any provider, 7 months after 3aaa collapse

Nearly one-third of the apprentices who were training with disgraced apprenticeship firm Aspire Achieve Advance had still not been found a new provider seven months after its collapse.

Furthermore, questions are likely to be raised about some of the firms the transferred apprentices have moved to, after one was slammed by Ofsted in an ‘insufficient’ monitoring report, four have been rated ‘requires improvement’ and three have never been inspected.

The company, better known as 3aaa, went into administration on October 11 after the government pulled its skills funding contracts following a fraud investigation. The police have since launched a formal criminal investigation.

A total of 4,229 apprentices were left without a place to complete their training, so the Education and Skills Funding Agency immediately began work to find them alternative provision at “high-quality” providers.

FE Week has now learnt, through a Freedom of Information request, that 1,321 of them, or 31 per cent, had still not been found new providers as of May 10.

Of the affected apprentices there were 1,835 non-levy funded. Of these 1,615 have had a transfer “facilitated”, while 210 have either completed their programme or withdrawn, and 10 are “still being supported”.

In terms of levy-funded apprentices, of which there were 2,394, and where the responsibility to find them a new provider is the employers, 1,073 transfers have been facilitated.

Transferring 3aaa’s apprentices proved controversial earlier in the year after FE Week revealed that a few providers had attempted to poach staff and learners using underhand tactics. This led to the ESFA warning that they could withdraw funding from any firms found doing this.

An investigation by this newspaper found that some training providers were “misrepresenting their position” in an effort to recruit those affected. Tactics included alleged false claims that the ESFA and 3aaa had asked the providers to take on hundreds of people affected.

Among them was Prospects Training International Limited, which trades as Geason Training. At the time, it was understood Geason had taken on 3aaa’s former quality director and was trying to recruit around 40 other former staff.

The provider, which was allowed to recruit over 1,000 apprentices before being inspected, was found making “insufficient progress” by Ofsted in a heavily critical monitoring visit published this week.

The FOI obtained by FE Week shows Geason took on 238 of 3aaa’s apprentices.

Babington Business College Limited, a large provider with government-funded skills contracts worth nearly £10 million in 2018-19 (according to ESFA data), was also one of the providers accused of poaching apprentices.

It took on 3aaa’s former operations director, and FE Week’s FOI shows it has taken on 347 affected apprentices – the most out of all providers.

Estio was another provider that formed part of FE Week’s investigation, and the figures show they took on 113 apprentices.

Elsewhere, Ofsted grade three providers Kaplan Financial Ltd, South Staffordshire College, Skills Edge Training Ltd and Chesterfield College took on 69, 28, 16 and 10 of 3aaa’s apprentices respectively.

Presidency London College Ltd, Learnmore Network Ltd, International Correspondence Schools Limited have never been inspected by Ofsted but took on 48, 45 and 29 of 3aaa’s apprentices respectively.

FE Week revealed what was behind the government and police investigations into 3aaa in November.

The company, which had 500 staff before it went bust when the ESFA pulled its £16.5 million skills contract, allegedly manipulated Individualised Learner Records to artificially inflate achievement rates by a huge amount and misused employer-incentive grants.

A previous ESFA investigation into 3aaa, carried out by auditing firm KPMG in 2016, had found dozens of success rate “overclaims”.

3aaa was co-founded by Peter Marples and Di McEvoy-Robinson in 2008, but the pair stepped down in September during the ESFA’s second investigation.

In March, Derbyshire police launched a formal criminal investigation into the provider.

At the time of going to press the police said investigations were ongoing.