Skills bootcamps

Despite challenges, skills bootcamps can still be a success

Ofsted’s report into skills bootcamps made for tough reading, writes Jane Hickie. The challenge now is how to build on the great work already being done

Ofsted’s report into skills bootcamps made for tough reading, writes Jane Hickie. The challenge now is how to build on the great work already being done

18 Nov 2022, 5:00

Last Wednesday, Ofsted published its thematic review into wave two of skills bootcamps. This was a welcome opportunity to take stock of this relatively new programme and I’m pleased the review highlighted the positive experience that learners generally get from these bootcamps.

More widely though, the report made for tough reading at times – including raising concerns over the quality of training where providers had little track record of delivery. However, I’m confident providers are ready to take this challenge on board. Lessons will be learned.

Promising early signs

Skills bootcamps are a great way to help employers quickly fill skills gaps. Their shorter nature means they offer a way for learners to get an accelerated boost to their skills – and we’ve already seen them being used to good effect in tackling the HGV driver shortage. They also provide an important link to other forms of work-based training down the line.

It was positive to read that most learners are satisfied with the content and quality of their training, and that providers have responded effectively to the aims of the programme. However, we should be cautious about the report’s wider findings, given the sample group used by Ofsted only includes a very small percentage of providers. In fact, many providers with a strong track record of delivery were not included in the study.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that the report has identified significant areas for improvement. This includes the need for better quality across provider types, better employer engagement, better oversight of subcontractors, and more measures to be put in place to identify learners’ prior experience.

Many providers with a strong track record were not included

We have seen similar challenges in other parts of the sector, and although they can be addressed, it’s frustrating to see them again. I know from speaking to providers – including Mark Dawe from the Skills Network – that the lessons learned in wave two are already being applied to wave three. The review itself was early on in the programme, so provides a great checklist for the future.

Dawe also pointed out that it takes time for employers to engage with new skills programmes and for them to work out how they would fit into their talent and workforce strategies. We only need to look to recent experiences with T Levels for evidence of that.

More scrutiny will help

Although Ofsted’s remarks shouldn’t detract from the many positive outcomes learners and employers have seen from skills bootcamps, we do need to put in place more safeguards and scrutiny.

Skills bootcamps sit outside mainstream established provision and are an outlier in terms of rules, compliance, reporting and quality when compared with other programmes. Giving Ofsted the power to inspect all bootcamp providers from April next year is a welcome move; we’ve long called for this, and at our recent autumn conference, 84 per cent of attendees agreed it was the way forward.

Having said that, though, the government must allocate Ofsted the right resources for this to work! Bringing skills bootcamps within its remit means these programmes will now be properly scrutinised and ensure they are reaching the high standards we all expect. The next step should be to add bootcamp subcontracting to the Department for Education’s existing rules and approaches, and ensuring the next round of procurement takes providers’ track record properly into account.

This report has been challenging. But we should welcome this sort of challenge. Lessons have been learned and we must now redouble our efforts to make the programme a success.

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