‘Heart-break’ as Qube Learning ceases trading

Over 200 staff and 3,500 learners impacted by sudden closure

Over 200 staff and 3,500 learners impacted by sudden closure

28 Mar 2023, 17:13

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Qube Learning, one of the biggest training providers in England, has suddenly ceased trading.

Owner Claire Whichello informed more than 200 staff of the “heart-breaking” decision to close today, which will affect around 3,500 learners who are mostly apprentices.

In an email to staff, seen by FE Week, she said that “increased competition in the apprenticeship market, challenges regarding stagnant funding bands, uncertainty around adult education budget contracts and the expected expiry of our traineeship contracts has meant there is too much uncertainty for the business to continue”.

Staff were given until midnight to park their company cars in a secure location before their insurance expired. They were also given information on how to make a claim through the Redundency Payments Service, but were told claims couldn’t be made until the company was officially in liquidation, which isn’t expected to happen until week commencing April 17.

The decision comes just days after the Department for Education ended the provider’s HGV skills bootcamp contract.

It is unclear how big a part this contract termination played in Qube’s decision to cease trading.

One former staff member posted: “This should serve as a wake-up call for the sector, and to the DFE, otherwise there will be many more to follow. We worked in the ‘not so sexy’ sectors, care, logistics, retail and facilities, where it’s really challenging to deliver remotely, unfortunately the funding does not reflect these challenges.”

Another said: “Working at Qube, and the amazing people has been one of the proudest achievements within my career. I believe we all made a difference to so many people, employers, students and our colleagues alike.”

The company’s latest accounts are for the year ending December 31, 2021 and show a £10.9 million turnover but a loss of £590,000 compared to a profit of £744,000 the year before.

Qube holds Education and Skills Funding Agency contracts worth £3.1 million in 2022/23 for adult education, traineeships and non-levy apprenticeships. The provider’s levy-funded contracts for this year are not yet known but in 2020/21 – the latest available data – it earned £7 million worth.

It delivered training to big-name employers like Specsavers, JD Group, Matalan, BT and Greater Anglia in sectors including care, logistics, retail and facilities.

The latest apprenticeships starts data shows that in the first two quarters of this academic year (August to January), Qube started 760 apprentices. Some 440 of those were in health, public services and care. 

In the last full academic year, 2021/22, the company started 2,850 apprentices. Again, the majority, 54 per cent, were in the health, public services and care sector. 

Like most training providers, apprenticeship starts dipped during the Covid years but appeared to bounce back, exceeding pre-lockdown levels. 

In 2021/22 Qube entered the Traineeships market and became the third largest provider of with 540 starts.

In December 2022 Ofsted published a report that downgraded Qube from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’.

The provider was incorporated in 1994 and has been one of the largest independent training providers for many years.

Whichello told staff today: “On behalf of all the directors, I would like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to every single colleague for your dedication, loyalty, professionalism and hard work. This is a heart-breaking decision to have made, but please do not lose sight of the contribution and positive impact you have made to so many students over the years.”

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  1. Really bizarre as their website (as of now, 5 hours after this article was published) Qube’s website is up and running as business is usual.

    I never understand how companies can just drop the bomb that they’re defunct on all their staff and stakeholders with zero warning. Usually there are some warning signs, whether management are open about it or not.

    • The warning signs are there, have been for some time and apply to the whole sector.

      1. Rising costs outpacing funding values.
      2. Pay and conditions squeezed for years until there are no ‘efficiencies’ left (among non-decision makers at least).
      3. DfE, ESFA, IfATE, Ofsted all conditioned to behave with an austerity, more for less, mindset and distant to realities of delivery.
      4. Provider associations repeatedly warning of business failures

      Qube could be the first of many and finding alternative providers for all those learners will become increasingly problematic.

    • The problem is that as soon as the organisation hints there may be a problem, it becomes self fulfilling. Suppliers won’t give credit, staff leave, clients look for alternatives.
      This gives a more definitely bad outcome and also potentially a worse outcome for those creditors who don’t manage to get paid pdq.

  2. Mr Tutor

    As a previous employee of Qube Learning I could see things were getting bad just before Christmas. The CEO left with immediate effect and the pressure’s on skills tutors was unacceptable. I feel so sorry for the students and the poor staff that were given no notice, just an email.

    Working in the Health and Social Care department we worked so hard, especially through an Ofsted inspection, followed by no thanks or gratitude from the upper Management, even though we scored a ‘good’ on our teaching and learning. So glad I left 5 weeks ago, however this is still not good for the other 200 employee’s

  3. As a CEO of a private independent training provider it frustrates me not being able to get onto the ROATP to deliver apprenticeships because its closed. Yet time and time again established providers we read in the FEWeek fraudulent providers and providers going out of business. Its time the register was opened to let private providers who survive without government funding apply their skills to the funded sector.

    • The snag is that government funding comes with whole layers of complexity. That’s one of the reasons that suppliers go under – not necessarily because they are rubbish organisations.
      I run a funded ITP and get frustrated that everyone outside the sector thinks it is easy to make a fortune inside. Although the ‘sticker’ prices may appear high, costs (both regulation of revenue and actual costs) are also much higher.

  4. Insight

    What I have heard that lifetime training is also making redundancies. The strange one that they advertised to support qube employees but making there staff redundant.

  5. Ahmed Aziadas

    I used to work there so no surprise that they terminated everyone by email with no notice period justifying it by immediately closing the entire company down to circumnavigate employment law. When I was there we were praying another training company would buy us out but I guess no one saw it as a viable purchase. So sorry for all those who lost their jobs and the uncertainty it will bring. I see a company called Learning Curve are doing a recruitment day and are encouraging people affected by the closure to attend and apply for the jobs they have available. That is a kind gesture and hopefully some of you will be successful in gaining employment with them.

    • Carlton

      You can call the ESFA and ask them what they are going to do with you. They will offer out the enrolled apprentices to another provider, who will also need extra staff. Their details should. Be within your enrolment paperwork. Sorry its come to this for you but do stick with the training. Your apprenticeship is worth finishing with whoever is willing to take over. Good luck.

  6. Alan Green

    A sad day for the training world. Once again a snap shot in time which offers no support for change ultimately marks the end of a company.

    For many years now the sector has become an industry in which those who flout the rules and shout loudest with their marketing machines do best but reality never matches the rhetoric.


  7. There is alleged to be something very dodgy going on with contributions taken from staff for their pensions disappearing and not being paid into the individuals pensions. I hope this doesn’t extend to NI contributions too. Staff appear to have given up hope of recovering the expenses they paid out and are just hoping the company has not been totally asset stripped with sufficient funds left to pay the money they are owed for the work they carried out. Whenever something odd like this happens one would hope that all assets and movement of money is immediately frozen with payment employees being the first urgent requirement. Surely in such cases also a bottom up approach should be taken with lower paid employees being the first priority rather than any remaining money being gobbled up on director salaries…. Just my humble opinion. What do they say about icebergs?