First Ofsted subcontracting visit report criticises Wigan and Leigh College

The first ever report of an Ofsted monitoring visit into subcontracting has found that governors and senior management at Wigan and Leigh College have been too slow to improve performance.

The report out today recalled that Paul Joyce, Ofsted’s deputy director for further education and skills, warned last month that the inspectorate planned to focus more on the quality of subcontracted provision.

He said in a letter that Ofsted would carry out a series of monitoring visits to a sample of providers, and this is the first report to emerge.

There was insufficient progress with how leaders from Wigan and Leigh College oversee subcontracting.

“The actions of governors and senior leaders to improve the performance of subcontractors have not been rapid enough,” inspectors warned. “The proportion of apprentices on subcontracted provision who achieve their qualifications is too low and has fallen over the last three years.”

It was pointed out that in 2016/17, only just over half of apprentices with subcontractor Citrus Training Solutions completed programmes successfully.

Wigan and Leigh College currently subcontracts around a third of its apprenticeship provision to Citrus, which accounts for over 500 apprentices, mainly in business management and administration.

“Quality-assurance arrangements for CTS have had too little impact for too long,” the report warned. “Until recently, arrangements relied too much on college managers ensuring compliance with quality-assurance processes at the expense of evaluating with rigour the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.”

Recent changes have resulted in “an improved approach”, but the quality of subcontracted apprenticeships at Citrus was still “not yet high enough”.

The college also subcontracts a proportion of its education and training provision to five local, community-based partner organisations: Groundwork Cheshire, Lancashire, Merseyside (Groundwork), Power in Partnership, Progress Sports Limited, The Skills Network and Wigan Council.

Around 200 learners were enrolled on such subcontracted education and training programmes at the time of the visit.

Most learners on subcontracted community-based education and training programmes “make good progress in developing their personal, social and work-related skills”.

But the proportion who achieved their qualifications in 2016/17 was lower overall than those on the college’s directly delivered provision, and “too low at Progress Sports Limited and Power in Partnership”.

Senior leaders at the college, rated ‘good’ overall through its most recent full inspection report (which did not look at the quality of its subcontracting provision arrangements), were said in today’s report to have established a “clear strategy” to reduce the volume of subcontracted provision.

And the report recognised that “managers and teachers at Groundwork, Power in Partnership, Progress Sports Limited, The Skills Network and Wigan Council ensure that most learners make good progress in developing the skills and personal attributes that they need for their next steps”.

An example was given of an inspirational project involving learners on a Prince’s Trust programme run by Groundwork.

They carried out a neighbourhood improvement project and were “able to talk clearly and confidently at a presentation event about the skills that they had gained through the project”. For many, this was said to be the first time they had spoken in public.

Safeguarding arrangements at all subcontractors are “effective”, but while assessors at Citrus provide “effective support” to enable apprentices to improve their English and digital skills, they do not support apprentices “well enough” to improve their mathematical skills.

Ofsted said it would start on “a sample of risk-based monitoring visits to directly funded providers to look specifically at management and quality of subcontracted provision for specific subcontractors” in February, apparently in reaction to mounting demands for a crackdown.

Robert Halfon, the education committee chair asked for a “wholesale review” into why Ofsted is not directly inspecting subcontractors in November.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman also warned delegates that Ofsted will expose training providers who rip off apprentices by collecting subcontracting management fees without taking “responsibility for quality”, during her speech last week at FE Week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference.

A spokesperson for the college spoke to FE Week about the monitoring visit report. 

‘The college, as always, has taken on board the feedback from Ofsted,” she said. “Subcontracting in the college has been significantly reduced over the past two years and constitutes less than eight per cent of all the activity undertaken and this is set to further reduce next academic year.  

“We value highly the work undertaken by partners and in 2016/17 had already made a significant investment in our capacity to support them. We are however committed to our partners who provide specialist provision and value highly the contribution they make. The college was inspected less than 18 months ago by Ofsted where it was judged to be ‘good’ and the monitoring visit does not affect that judgement.”

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