College left ‘surprised’ as Ofsted grades apprenticeships ‘inadequate’

Inspectors found 'serious weaknesses' but also reported a number of positive aspects of the college's provision

Inspectors found 'serious weaknesses' but also reported a number of positive aspects of the college's provision

A college facing a ban on apprenticeships after Ofsted judged the provision as ‘inadequate’ has spoken of their “surprise” at the rating.

Oaklands College received its second consecutive grade three report this week but saw its apprenticeships grade fall from ‘good’ in 2018, to ‘inadequate’.

Inspectors claimed that leaders had “not maintained the good practice identified in the apprenticeship provision” at the last inspection.

Instead, “leaders have failed to identify and act upon the serious weaknesses in a substantial proportion of their apprenticeship provision.

“They underestimated the impact of the weaknesses they have identified on the quality of apprentices’ learning experience. As a result, too many apprentices do not enjoy or benefit from their training.”

The 2018 report found apprentices developed high levels of practical work-related skills and often progressed into enhanced roles at work.

Under Education and Skills Funding Agency rules, colleges and training providers which receive an ‘inadequate’ grade are removed from the register of apprenticeship providers so are unable to start new apprentices.

College working to ‘fully understand’ Ofsted’s decision

Oaklands College has 589 apprentices studying between levels 2 and 4 but overall has almost 5,000 learners spread across campuses in St Albans, Welwyn Garden City, and Borehamwood – all in Hertfordshire.

A college spokesperson told FE Week inspectors only revealed their apprenticeship grade would be downgraded on the final afternoon of the September inspection.

“This was surprising to us and our employers, as the college has excellent relationships with the businesses it works with, especially with all the issues impacting on apprenticeships due to Covid, who consistently gave positive feedback including during the inspection,” he said.

Oaklands is working with Ofsted to “fully understand the reasons for the change in grade on the final afternoon”.

Many of the employers they work with, he continued, are “fully supportive” of continuing to work with them on future provision and on existing learners.


New principal Andrew Slade had started just three weeks before the inspection and has “commissioned further work since the inspection, the output of which supports the college’s wish to fully understand the reasoning behind the judgement for apprenticeships,” which accounts for just 5 per cent of the college’s provision.

Ofsted reported that Oaklands learners on study programmes enjoy “a purposeful and focused curriculum,” but inspectors discovered “too many” apprentices do not get the opportunity to practice what they learn at college at their jobs.

They do not understand, the report reads, how the theory they learn will help them get better at their jobs.

Leaders and managers were found to not ensure enough employers fulfil the commitment to give apprentices time away from work to learn.

The watchdog also raised concerns about apprenticeships safeguarding as managers had not helped them understand well enough how the ‘Prevent’ duty applies to their work settings.

“Too many apprentices are not always aware that they may be vulnerable because of the sensitivity of their job roles,” according to the report, which did say safeguarding arrangements were effective overall.

Leaders have ‘high expectations’, report also says

But Ofsted gave Oaklands College a grade two for multiple other areas of provision, finding that leaders have “high expectations” for behaviour to ensure learners develop “work-ready attitudes” to learning.

Most teachers have developed a supportive and productive learning environment and help learners develop team working and communication skills.

For example, hospitality and catering learners demonstrated how to prepare and cook ingredients grown by horticulture students in a weekend festival called ‘From Farm to Fork’.

The college’s leaders also have a “good rationale” for subcontracted provision, working with two providers to offer courses not taught at the college, such as online English and maths courses for adults from diverse backgrounds.

“Throughout the inspection, the college received positive feedback across all areas,” the college spokesperson argued.

The ‘inadequate’ rating comes after education secretary Nadhim Zahawi told FE leaders at the Association of Colleges annual conference in November he would “love to see even more colleges involved in delivering apprenticeships”.

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  1. There needs to be some clarity on roles and responsibility in the apprenticeship delivery. The college is responsible for the knowledge delivery, the employer the skills. OFSTED should acknowledge the failing is with the employer.

  2. Derek Tilley

    Many apprenticeship programmes are failing because the employer (especially small) cannot give the apprentice the broad range of experiences that a college and the programme requires within the time limits or their resources.
    T Level strategists take notice, one reason they are doomed to failure.

    • Nigel Kirby

      Not saying that Oaklands have done this but colleges are so keen to get as many apprentices possible on the books they do not vet the employers properly to see if they meet the requirements and cover the range of work onsite, also they progress Learners onto a course that is to far to hard for them and wonder why they fail all the exams. A level three NVQ is the equivalent of an A level and people underestimate how hard it is to pass. There are lots of issues with apprenticeship courses and even the new standard is still not quite right. I could write a whole article on the problems!

  3. Phillip Hatton

    The delivery of skills is the responsibility of the contract holder and if the employer is not giving time or help to deliver them the college should not be working with the employer (or should be delivering training off-the-job at the college to compensate in a hybrid model). Also the report indicates problems with reviews and target setting as well as apprentices not enjoying their training, fairly significant weaknesses for the individual apprentices. Although the new style of report is light on detail it does sound as if there has been significant slippage in standards, possibly contributed to by the loss of local employer Monarch who were a high quality subcontractor. My concern is that similar recent inspection findings for apprenticeships have had grade 3s given and even grade 2s with significant weaknesses that impact on apprentices, particularly time given for study while at work.