Elmfield boss quits over Ofsted’s inadequate grading

The boss of Elmfield Training has quit after Ofsted inspectors gave the firm an inadequate rating having come across “unacceptably low” results.

Ged Syddall resigned after ten years as chief executive, and founder, of the Cheshire-based independent training provider taking “full responsibility” for the results.

He said: “Despite many positive findings the business has received low grades and ultimately as chief executive I take full responsibility for that.

“I have therefore resigned as chief executive with immediate effect.”

However, it is understood Mr Syddall will remain majority shareholder of Elmfield, which currently has a £27.6m contract with the Skills Funding Agency.

Meanwhile, the agency has issued the firm with a Notice of Serious Breach and prohibited it from contracting any new employers while under the notice.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “We are taking tough and urgent action on failing colleges and training providers such as Elmfield that are not up to scratch to protect learners.

“I want to root out poor performance wherever I find it.”

The Ofsted inspection of Elmfield last month today resulted in a downgrading on 2011’s ‘requires improvement’ (grade three, and formerly termed ‘satisfactory’) rating to inadequate (grade four).

“The report says our staff are committed and enthusiastic, and inspectors told me at the end of the inspection they had nothing but admiration for the passion staff have for their work. I cannot thank them enough for that,” said Mr Syddall.

But Ofsted was critical on several areas of service provided by Elmfield, which previously counted supermarket giant Morrisons as its biggest customer. Barclays is among its current client base.

“Success rates in the apprenticeship programmes experienced a considerable decline last year and a high proportion of learners within the Morrisons’ contract did not complete the full framework,” said the report.

“Furthermore, the number of learners who completed their apprenticeship in the planned time fell to an unacceptably low level of 33 per cent.”

It added: “The number of learners who complete their qualification in the expected time continues to decline and has reached an unacceptably low 23 per cent of the retail apprenticeships, which make up the majority of Elmfield’s provision.”

And attendance at key skills sessions fell to a “very low 26 per cent,” said the report, which added: “Elmfield has been slow in implementing the delivery of functional skills and does not have sufficient numbers of staff with the appropriate qualifications in the teaching of functional skills.”

However, the report also said the 11,371-learner provider had experienced “changes at the board level within Morrisons, tough trading conditions in the retail sector, long periods of lockdown preventing activity other than trading taking place, intense media scrutiny and breakdown of relationships, combined with lack of commitment from some stores.” The report claimed these “all contributed to this unsatisfactory position”.

A spokesperson for Elmfield, which has 413 staff, said: “We are obviously disappointed by the grades in the report, but we think the inspection process itself was fair.

“We accept that in the current Ofsted framework it is almost inevitable for a provider with inadequate outcomes for learners to be given inadequate grades for leadership and management and overall effectiveness as well.”

She added: “Although the report is critical of the overall success rates achieved by learners in 2011/12, inspectors recognised that a high proportion of learners — 83 per cent — succeeded in the vocational element of their training and that achievement rates improved markedly this year, to 86 per cent.

“As far as teaching and learning are concerned, the report says that most teaching and assessment sessions are good, learners develop good vocational skills and the programmes we have started in the last two years are well planned and managed.

“We accept the recommendations for improvement in the report and will focus on tackling the success factors identified initially in our self-assessment report and by Ofsted.

“We continue to work closely with the Skills Funding Agency, our employer partners and most importantly our learners to build on the strong partnerships built up in the last two years.”

Ofsted inspectors will return to Elmfield in the autumn to see if it has improved.

Mr Hancock said: “A more rigorous and responsive skills system is crucial to our future economic success and our drive to tackle youth unemployment.

“Poor training undermines social mobility and holds back people who want to get on in life.”

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  1. It will be interesting to see if they keep their contracts or not. Surely that can’t be allowed to happen. The gravy train should be stopped for organisations such as this. Most other providers reacted quickly to the introduction of functional skills and have managed to retain their success rates, which hasn’t been easy, but is achievable if done in the correct way.

    • Dean Carey

      Wasn’t this the CEO that earned over £1m last year in salary+benefits? All tax payers money. How does this compare to the renumeration of Principals/CEOs of some of the biggest FE colleges with a lot more learners? How are the SFA responding to this behaviour?

  2. I think this also reflects that the current system of funded delivery is not flexible enough to cope with the inevitable storms that hit employers, particularly through this current long recession (which has a while to run yet).

    Yes, some criticisms can be laid squarely at Elmfield’s feet, but a great deal of the cause of the breakdown of these programmes must also lie with the architects and infrastructure of the Apprenticeship programme itself.

    This programme is not designed with employers (and employees) in mind – it’s designed to meet the needs of the civil service and Ministers.

    • Just spotted an article in the Guardian, “Morrisons boss Dalton Philips in bullish mood over expansion plans”. I’d love to read his response to the criticisms in the Ofsted report about lack of cooperation with assessors etc. Only great employers with a genuine commitment can produce positive outcomes for their recruits e.g. Barclays.

      Morrisons clearly lost interest and it shows on almost every page of the report. Pity we can’t Ofsted employers!!

      Good luck NCG!!!

  3. lindsay mccurdy

    In the article it states the agency has issued the firm with a Notice of Serious Breach and prohibited it from contracting any new employers while under the notice. Does this apply to it’s subcontractors?

  4. morianna

    Shocking News but expected, Elmfield have lost it’s way, and with heads still rolling at the top and many staff being transferred elsewhere uner tupe will this mean the end on elmfield training?
    Some staff have already been told to start lookig for jobs!

  5. Mark C

    The Ofsted report seems to paint a contrasting view of Elmfield, from the number of references to the large multinational grocery retailer that are made it is quite clearly trying to provide (significant) context to the grading. Ultimately, the sheer scale of that particular employer contract in retail has directly contributed to the overall judgements for learner outcomes, leadership and management and overall effectiveness.

    I think it poses some really interesting questions to be asked and debated:
    1. Picking up on Peter’s point, should there be some sort of contractual (in the context of benefitting from services which are publicly funded) agreement for employers who work with Colleges and/or Private Training Providers (PTP’s) who hold the contracts with the funding agencies. It does seem to be a little odd that employer responsive provision than needs an employment contract (for Apprenticeships), has little formal accountability for Ofsted Inspections. With nearly a third of a billion pounds being directed through the Employer Ownership of skills Pilot the need for employers to take WBL seriously is even more vital than ever.

    2. It appears to have been quite a turbulent 12 months for Elmfield Training; yet despite this they have still attracted and engaged other national employers – across different sectors and with (as the Ofsted report would tend to indicate) a better experience for the learner than that they were able to give to the large national grocery retailer. With 85% of employers not engaging with the Apprenticeship programme currently, it would be interesting to have some sort of study to review and capture what it is about Elmfield Training’s engagement and delivery that is attractive to employers. Perhaps there are some learning points here that don’t neatly fit the current Funding Rules and Inspection Framework, but do engage employers and increase the volume of opportunities available to learners?!?

    3. I can’t imagine it has been an easy and quick decision for Ged Syddall to make, from what I can see his appearance and platform at the Apprenticeships4England conference last year and (most of) his staff feelings towards him as an individual leading the business has been positive. Ultimately however, the business has been judged to be Inadequate and he has taken the accountability for the findings at the highest level.

    With Elmfield Training’s contract with the top 5 national grocery retailer coming to an end, it will be interesting on 2 fronts to see the overall improvement in their delivery across other employers and sectors, as well as the impact the report and findings have for learners in retail as NCG take over as delivery partner.

    • Caroline

      Mark C……always the voice of reason on here providing valid and well formed comments, it’s a shame not everyone can articulate their views in such a professional manner! Rather than people jumping on the band wagon and taking pleasure in kicking a dog while it is down.

  6. After the Panorama programme some 15 months ago no one should have been surprised by the inspection outcome for Elmfield Training. A training scheme that generated enormous profit cannot have been spending the funds drawn down on their learners. Much of what has become wrong with vocational programmes comes from the Train to Gain initiative that was often assessment rather than assessment and training – with providers who delivered large numbers of NVQs being encouraged by the SFA to branch into apprenticeships where they had not got the required training expertise. There are still a lot of apprenticeship programmes with little content that were never designed to be delivered over a year. These short programmes have often been extended to a year by simply having a wider gap between visits to the workplace, which does not challenge, engage and stretch learners. If this government wants to ‘root out poor provision’ as it constantly says there needs to be a hard look at what should constitute a minimum content for an apprenticeship. The SFA also needs to look at how it treats different types of provider. If you are small and are graded inadequate you lose your contract (but probably then subcontract and still deliver, but without the level of funds that you had previously), but the big fish of funding often seem to be given preferential treatment and time.

  7. Ok Elmfield Training have been found wanting – not being allowed to contact new companies doesn’t seem so harsh if your client base already has major organisations. Gedd Syddall seems to have taken the brunt for the business inadequate performances. If I were asked I would be thinking cop – out. Get back in there, be a professional and get it sorted out. The industry will think a lot better of you. Place to start – get the learners port folio’s, who are in process, looked at immediately to identify what will be required to hit completion targets. You can do it Ged, you have in the past so get on with it.

    • Apprenticeship Scandal

      All well and good Jim – but what about those organisations that choose to no longer work with Elmfield as they are INADEQUATE by definition and don’t want to have their reputation tarnished by association. Not good for banking institutions to be associated with such poor provision, particularly when considering the bad press the sector has had – not a good omen!

      It only takes one employer to cancel their contract with Elmfield and then the rest will follow – good luck Elmfield – you’re going to need it!