Alternative providers needed for thousands of learners after funding pulled from charity’s ‘inadequate’ training wing

The government is looking for alternative “quality providers” for up to 3,500 post-16 learners after it pulled the plug on funding the FE training wing of leading charity Age UK.

The decision by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and Education Funding Agency (EFA) was provoked by Ofsted’s inadequate-overall rating of Age UK in a report published a month ago.

This returned the lowest (grade four) ratings for apprenticeships, and traineeships, effectiveness of leadership and management, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, outcomes for learners, and adult learning programmes.

It led to a government spokesman telling FE Week today that “the SFA and EFA have terminated their contracts with Age UK Trading’s training division following its [inadequate Ofsted] rating”.

“We are now working to ensure apprentices and learners find alternative quality providers with minimal disruption,” it added.

“This government is committed to spreading educational excellence everywhere, and any time spent in an underperforming institution is unacceptable.”

Last month’s Ofsted report stated that Age UK’s learning wing taught around 7,600 post-16 learners over the previous contract year.

Around 3,500 were enrolled at the time of publication, of which 2,300 were apprentices and 100 on traineeships.

A spokesperson for Age UK, which was allocated more than £8m EFA and SFA funding for the current academic year, said: “We have made the difficult decision to consult on closing Age UK’s government-funded training business.

“We will now be reviewing operations and are liaising with all staff to support them during this time. We have not made any final decisions.”

The closure could reportedly lead to more than 100 job losses.

A report on the Daily Mirror website stated that financial problems faced by the charity’s training wing had also been caused by the loss of European Social Fund (ESF) cash.

The charity and European Union (EU) declined to say how much ESF money was involved.

However, an EU spokesperson told FE Week: “The ESF programmes are managed by the national management authority — in the case of the UK, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

“For more information on why ESF funding was cancelled, I would therefore refer you to them.”

She added: “We do not see a link between this decision and the so-called ‘funding gap’”.

The ‘funding gap’ that she referred to was the lag between closing dates for 2007 to 2013 ESF contracts and procurement for new funding agreements — which forced a number of training bases to close as reported by FE Week.

The SFA confirmed in June last year that while old contracts would close on July 31, it anticipated that “the earliest” procurement rounds for 2014 to 2020 would “launch in July”.

The process was infact not launched by the SFA until December last year, as reported by FE Week, with tendering for further ESF contracts expected to open “at regular intervals between January and May 2016,” according to a spokesperson for the agency.

The DWP declined to comment in July last year on whether there would be a funding gap for its ESF contracts and was unable to comment on funding for Age UK ahead of publication.

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