ESFA waters down apprenticeship oversight for new providers

The Education and Skills Funding Agency has softened its policy on allowing paused providers to start recruiting again.

Since October 2018, Ofsted has conducted early monitoring visits of new training firms and any that are found making ‘insufficient progress’ are suspended from taking on new apprentices in line with ESFA rules.

Providers have been unable to recruit until they have achieved a grade of at least ‘requires improvement’ in a follow-up full inspection.

But in an update published today, the agency said the suspension can now be lifted if Ofsted has undertaken a “subsequent monitoring visit” and the training provider is “making reasonable or significant progress in all three themes”.

It comes a day after the inspectorate announced it would start conducting “visits” to FE providers from September, as well as an additional monitoring visit to new providers that have an existing ‘insufficient progress’ rating, following a pause in activity due to Covid-19.

The full inspection regime is not scheduled to fully return until January 2021.

The watered down rules will be welcomed by new providers such as Wiser Academy Ltd, which last month warned they could be forced to make redundancies as the pause in Ofsted inspections since March has prolonged their inability to recruit.

In the ESFA’s update today, it said monitoring visits may replace full inspections if the number of apprentices is “too low to sufficiently undertake a full inspection” or if Ofsted “consider it appropriate during the interim return to inspection period from September 2020”.

The agency warned that where Ofsted undertakes another monitoring visit instead of a full inspection, they will “normally remove from the register any organisation with two consecutive ‘insufficient’ progress judgements”.