More than 2,500 apprentices and adult learners have been left in the lurch after their provider immediately exited the training market following a grade four Ofsted report.
Progress to Excellence Limited (PtE), an independent learning provider established in 1997, today dropped from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’.
The education watchdog reported that leaders’ and governors’ growth strategy to expand the curriculum “has had a negative impact on the quality of education and training that apprentices and learners receive”.
Leaders “failed” to recruit enough high-quality staff to meet the increased range of vocational programmes on offer.
“Too many” apprentices and learners have experienced “disruption to their learning because of staffing issues”, who told inspectors that they “are having a poor experience”.
Following publication of the report today, Katy Lennon, acting chief executive officer of PtE, said: “Progress to Excellence Ltd will be exiting the apprenticeship market, with immediate effect. We will also stop offering funding for courses via advanced learner loans.
“All employers and learners are being notified of this situation, and where necessary, they will be supported by ourselves and the Education and Skills Funding Agency to find suitable alternative training to support their professional development.”
It is not known if the ESFA terminated PtE’s contracts, which is typical when a private provider is rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.
The firm declined to comment on whether it would shut down completely or if there would be any job losses. Its financial accounts showed there were 140 employees for the year ended 31 March 2018.
At the time of inspection in December, there were 2,008 apprentices, 609 adult learners and “a very small number of learners on traineeship programmes” at the Wirral-based provider.
PtE subcontracted out around 250 apprentices to four subcontractors.
Apprenticeship programmes included health and care, business and engineering and manufacturing at levels 2 to 5 while adult learners, who all used advanced learner loans to pay for their courses, studied hairdressing, beauty and fitness at level 3 and 4.
According to Ofsted, apprentices and learners were “frustrated” by how poor PtE staff “keep them informed”, and they complained that they have had “many different training and assessment officers”.
Students did “not benefit from a challenging and broad curriculum”.
While adult learners, most of whom are non-working parents, unemployed or ex-offenders, were reported as being “proud of the improvements they make and the skills they develop”, apprentices were found to be making “slow progress”.
Inspectors said apprentices and learners “are not prepared well enough for their next steps” because the advice on offer is “not impartial”. Careers advice was not “aspirational enough”.
Despite action being taken by the new chief executive after she identified a decline in quality, “too many apprentices” told Ofsted they were having “a poor experience” and about one fifth of current apprentices were beyond their planned end dates.
In 2017/18, over one third of apprentices did not achieve their apprenticeship.
The inspectorate said governors failed to hold previous senior leaders to account, apprentices were routinely not placed on the right apprenticeship and training and assessment officers do not ensure that all learners are on the correct programme.
The latter did offer developmental feedback to most learners but it was reported that they did “not support apprentices who have additional learning needs well enough.”
However, safeguarding arrangements at the provider were praised for being effective.