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.”