High-profile FE figure sees companies go bust amid ESFA investigations


A chain of large training providers run by a well-known entrepreneur has collapsed amid a government investigation into their funding contracts.

Four companies – MiddletonMurray, Astute Minds, Teaching and Learning Group, and FNTC Training and Consultancy – which were owned by entrepreneur and media commentator Angela Middleton, have entered administration.

FE Week understands the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s Counter Fraud and Investigation Team had been actively probing how multiple contracts were used across all four of the companies – but a spokesperson for Middleton claims it is a standard annual audit and the decision to close was not related.

Official figures show that one of the companies, Astute Minds, delivered 620 (5 per cent) of all the government funded 16 to 18 year-old traineeships in 2018/19, more than any other provider.

The companies have surrendered their apprenticeship contracts and are no longer listed on the register of apprenticeship training providers.

They received a total of £7.2 million in ESFA allocations in 2019/20, including for FE loan-funded provision, non-levy apprenticeships, adult education budget, traineeships and 16 to 18 study programmes (see table).

A spokesperson claimed the companies were “subject of a standard audit looking at qualification and achievement rates along with a number of other providers” earlier this year but blamed the closure on Covid-19.

“Regrettably, having made every effort to keep trading, we have now been left with no alternative in the face of the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the economy and jobs market but to close the company,” they told FE Week.

“This was something we had been striving to avoid during the lockdowns with structured lay-offs and redundancies, across-the board pay cuts and various cost cutting measures as the employment market became increasingly devastated.”

The spokesperson would not say how many staff have lost their jobs in total, but said trading was suspended in November and the remaining 17 staff on their books had now been made redundant. Affected learners have also either completed training or been transferred to another provider, but they did not say how many learners had to move.

The Department for Education told FE Week they had put in place a “dedicated provider change” team “to support learners, apprentices and employers, and we are writing to all those affected to explain the next steps”.

A spokesperson said the department will work with employers and providers to ensure apprentices are transferred “as quickly as possible”.

The department declined to comment on the investigations.

The loss of Ofsted grade two Astute Minds in particular will be felt by the government, as it delivered 2,660 traineeship starts between 2014/15 and 2019/20.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced in July £111 million would be put towards tripling traineeship starts to over 40,000 in 2020/21, so losing such a valuable source of starts will make hitting that target even harder.

MiddletonMurray was last inspected by Ofsted in 2016, and was graded as ‘good’ for its provision to around 287 learners.

In a new provider monitoring report published in May 2019, the Teaching and Learning Group, was found to be making ‘insufficient progress’ in its provision to 24 apprentices.

Middleton receiving her MBE Credit to <a href=httpwwwangelamiddletoncom target= blank rel=noopener noreferrer>wwwangelamiddletoncom<a>

Angela Middleton was awarded an MBE for services to apprenticeship training, youth employment and business in 2018 (pictured).

She asserts on her website of appearing in big-name media outlets like Sky News and The Daily Telegraph, and has links to several high-profile politicians.

Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon wrote the foreword to her book, ‘Bridge that gap!: How schools can help students get their first job and build the career they want’, while Home Office minister James Brokenshire’s favourable review of her earlier book ‘How to get your first job and get the career you want’ is featured on its Amazon page.

In addition to the providers, she also operates several other active companies, some in the recruitment sector and some using the MiddletonMurray name, which do not have ESFA contracts.

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  1. Joseph Malarkey

    Blaming COVID 19 is laughable. MiddletonMurray was a poorly run business with a clueless CEO and SLT team. I feel sorry for all the learners and employees that have been left in such a bad state. Things were spiralling out of control way before COVID and it was down to a pure lack of leadership and inexperience.

  2. This doesn’t surprise me at all. I worked for Middleton Murray for over 3 years and luckily I was able to get out as MiddletonMurray started to sink, redundancies have been happening since March, when she put 80% off staff on unpaid leave with no furlough pay. They put staff and learners through pure turmoil and yet Angela still preaches on Instagram about having good mental health and being a good business woman.

  3. It’s a shame for those affected – MiddletonMurray had a lot going for it that should have made it a positive and effective provider for learners, a big asset compared to other providers was a relatively high profile figurehead able to attract business opportunities. However, what was needed was the figurehead to leave the running of the business to some good people in the organisation.

    Good luck to all those negatively impacted by this and hopefully there will be support behind the scenes for them.

  4. I’m one of many students who have been affected by this. They have drawn down on my student loan but not paid my training provider. My training provider is no longer able to provide my qualification as they haven’t received the funding from Angela Middleton MBE’s companies to provide the course so now I have to pay off a student loan for a qualification that I haven’t got. It states above that all students have been transferred to other providers and been advised of the next steps. None of which is true.

    Angela Middleton MBE and her companies played a very good game this year since they actively encouraged my training provider to recruit new students throughout the pandemic using the governments advanced learner loan funding knowing full well they wouldn’t pass the funds on to deliver the training. My training academy are owed £thousands in unpaid student course fees while Angela Middleton MBE has run off with all our loans and conveniently gone into liquidation. My training provider is unlikely to survive such a hard blow from Angela and will also have to close their business as a result.

    I can’t believe Angela Middleton MBE has been allowed to get away with this!

    • Whats really upsetting is that some of the students are still unaware since no explanation was given whatsoever; they probably just think that they’re on pause cause of covid restrictions.
      Ive only recently just found this out and had just been emailing and waiting for responses, when I could have been doing something else.

      Angela has been advertising these student programs for so long only for this disappointment.

      I really hope something is done about this as a lot of people have wasted significant amounts of time and are left with unpaid course fees and without well earned certificates and qualifications.

  5. Isle of wight

    I can’t believe they didn’t inform anything to the learner like me. I completed my course and just waited to receive my certificates and this has happened. I am lost and have no clue if I get certificates or not….

    • I have been waiting since October for my certificate which i completed early in May, I haven’t heard anything and my provider has paid for the course around that time too so we have absolutely nothing to show for all my hard work and their hard earned money please can someone help? Have only just seen that they went bust!

  6. Frustrated learner

    I am another learner affected by this provider closing down and I am disgusted by the lack of support I have recieved from MiddletonMurray. I have been contacting them since November requesting details on the future of my qualification and for support on who I will be completing this qualification with.. no response. Most staff here were absolutely fantastic and went above and beyond for their students if only the senior leadership team had shared the same values and passion for the learners..

  7. Lost learner

    I am another learner affected by this company… 80 percent of the way through my course and I have been provided with no support from either MiddletonMurray, DOE or ESFA despite multiple emails and calls regarding future of my qualification or the next steps. I am concerned the “dedicated provider change team” “to support learners, apprentices and employers,” does not include all the learners MiddletonMurray provided qualifications for and many including myself may get left behind..