A chamber of commerce-owned training provider has been branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted for not using local skills information to plan its curriculum.
However, the provider has criticised the inspectorate for “not completing the inspection in full,” and also protested how the new inspection handbook has been introduced.
It had 129 apprentices on nine programmes focused on hairdressing, adult care, refrigeration, and business between levels 2 and 3 at the time of the inspection. There were also 28 adult learners on a level 3 adult care diploma.
Provider caught out for teaching apprentices to perm hair
Inspectors found the provider’s leaders and managers “do not use information about local skills needs adequately in order to plan a curriculum for learners and apprentices that is relevant to the needs of their employers”.
This they saw when hairdressing apprentices were learning how to perm hair, a technique which is “no longer in demand,” rather than how to apply hair extensions, “a skill needed in local salons”.
That local skills information is not being used by Chamber Training to inform provision is particularly damning, as the government is lining up local chambers of commerce to run local skills improvement plans in the future.
Eight chambers are currently working as LSIP trailblazers, putting together plans which aim to align the courses on offer in their area with local employers’ needs.
Having a skills system led by employers, through employer representative bodies such as chambers, is something ministers have insisted on for the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which will put LSIPs into law.
Speaking during a Commons debate on the bill last month, skills minister Alex Burghart told MPs: “We have been clear that we want to have an approach that is completely employer-led.”
Ofsted criticises provider for not ensuring off-the-job training time
Ofsted also found safeguarding arrangements at Chamber Training were not effective, with inspectors reporting: “Too few learners and apprentices understand well enough the local risks that they might come across, such as knife crime.”
Staff were also expecting too little of apprentices’ compliance with industry working practices, as storage areas in refrigeration workshops were “cluttered” because “apprentices leave crisp packets and soft drinks bottles in their workspaces”.
Leaders also do not carry out enough checks to make sure apprenticeship programmes meet funding requirements and do not work “well enough” with employers to ensure they understand they need to provide apprentices with ringfenced time away from work to complete training.
“As a result, too many apprentices do not receive the off-the-job training to which they are entitled.”
Inspectors did say tutors create a “respectful” atmosphere and the chamber’s leaders establish “meaningful” relationships with the local enterprise partnership and employers.
The report also approved of how tutors with “significant” industrial experience are recruited.
Chamber criticises cut in inspection duration
Chamber Training was found to have made ‘reasonable progress’ in all areas of a monitoring visit in 2019.
Ofsted also made an interim visit to the provider in November 2020, which Chamber Training said, “would have been a good time for Ofsted to mention any concerns it had.
“There were none, and Chamber Training therefore felt encouraged to continue on the path of making progress.”
In a statement, the provider said it “responded” to the report, which Ofsted “refused to change”.
Its curriculum is “designed and delivered” to help businesses develop the skills they need and their employers are “shocked by the report”.
They and learners “have been complimentary about the standard of training and the support they receive,” the statement added.
The provider insists it has made “significant” progress in identified areas and the ESFA is “satisfied with our safeguarding arrangements and have allowed us to continue training”.
Despite approaching the inspection with “confidence,” Chamber Training complained Ofsted was “unable” to train their staff in the new inspection handbook, introduced last year, until November.
Yet, the provider protested, inspectors “still questioned us on the content when they conducted our inspection in October”.
Chamber Training also took issue with how the inspection process took three days, instead of the four or five it did at the last inspection.
“It is our view that Ofsted would have formed a different view of our services had they completed the inspection in full.
“Ofsted did not make the most of the opportunities to do that and this was not the right time to reduce the duration of an inspection from four or five days to three days.”