First Ofsted grade 4 challenged by provider

The first provider to receive grade four under Ofsted’s new inspection regime has appealed.

Independent learning provider Mercia Partnership (UK) Ltd, which delivers a range of apprenticeships and adult learning programmes, was found to be inadequate by Ofsted inspectors.

It received grade four in every assessed area except adult learning programmes, which received grade three.

A spokesperson for Mercia Partnership told FE Week the company has appealed the grade.

The report was one of the first 13 published by Ofsted today under the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF).

Ofsted would not confirm an appeal has been lodged.

A spokesperson for the inspectorate said: “We do not comment on complaints or correspondence with individual providers.”

Mercia Partnership operates from two centres in Lancashire and in East Sussex and has 147 apprentices and 51 learners studying adult learning programmes, funded through the advanced learner loan programme.

As of 2017/18 it provided training in 79 different local authorities, with over half of all provision being in health, public services and care and around one in five apprentices training in information and communication technology.

The majority of the apprenticeship delivery takes place in employers’ businesses and two subcontractors provide apprenticeship programmes in the north west and the south west of England, mainly in childcare.

Adult learning programmes take place in community venues across the country.

The critical report stated that learners and apprentices “do not experience a well-planned programme of study” and concluded the curriculum was “not fit for purpose” and “does not prepare them sufficiently for their future careers.”

The poor careers guidance and advice resulted in many apprentices facing redundancy or extensive periods of time on a lower wage, according to the education watchdog.

It claimed apprentices “receive a poor standard of training” and are “unhappy, unmotivated, and, in some cases, very angry about the quality of their training.”

The inspectorate also found that apprentices wasted their time in skills and knowledge training in topics they already knew before the scheme.

Leaders and managers were criticised for the failure to consult sufficiently with employers and industry organisations to develop appropriate content.

Ofsted found that high staff turnover had “a negative impact” on apprentices’ learning with frequent changes in assessors leaving “significant gaps” in the training programme.

The inspectors also criticised the lack of supervisory body and oversight over staff expertise and subcontractors.

Despite this, it deemed the quality of training at subcontractors as of a higher standard than that delivered by Mercia.

The report said that leaders were “culpable” and have failed to ensure programmes meet the requirements of an apprenticeship.

However, praise was reserved for the safeguarding arrangements at Mercia Partnership which were described as “effective” and “appropriate.”

All staff had received training on safeguarding and the ‘Prevent’ duty while leaders and managers also ensure that staff recruitment processes include appropriate checks on suitability.

Despite this, the report warned more links need to be nurtured with local agencies to gather intelligence and too many apprentices “could not confidently articulate” what steps to take to keep themselves safe from potential risks.

Ofsted concluded Mercia Partnership needed to urgently carry out a systematic review of the curriculum, ensure that all staff have the skills and knowledge to deliver apprenticeship programmes and rapidly improve the quality of education.

It also recommended that assessments must be fit for purpose and that the results are used by staff to plan learning that develops apprentices’ skills and knowledge and the quality of advice is improved so learners and apprentices have the knowledge required to make future choices.

This inspection of Mercia Partnership took place between September 17 and 20.

Prior to this the independent learning provider had been graded ‘good’ in the most recent full inspection in 2015, ‘requires improvement’ in 2014 and ‘satisfactory’ in both 2012 and 2008.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Mercia Partnership has been rated as inadequate by Ofsted. We are considering Ofsted’s report and will write to the provider in due course.”