HMRC under fire from Ofsted over apprenticeships fiasco

Thousands of employees were forced onto apprenticeships before being withdrawn

Thousands of employees were forced onto apprenticeships before being withdrawn

The HMRC forced thousands of employees onto apprenticeships before realising it did not have capacity to meet their training demands – leading to the majority withdrawing from their programme.

The fiasco was revealed in an Ofsted report published today, which rated the government department as ‘requires improvement’ overall.

Leadership and management was slammed after inspectors found that the tax office, which started delivering its own apprenticeship training in 2017, made it mandatory for all employees to enrol on an apprenticeship in response to a “requirement” to increase recruitment and training significantly.

Senior leaders took the decision in 2019 to place around 2,500 new and existing civil servants on investigator officer and professional accountancy tax technician apprenticeship programmes in the tax academy.

But they soon realised this approach was “not appropriate” as they did not have the structure or capacity to support this number of apprentices, according to Ofsted.

“Furthermore, these programmes did not meet the requirements of the apprenticeship standards,” today’s report said. “This led to confusion and uncertainty for many apprentices, which was exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their job roles.”

Senior leaders subsequently took the decision to change their position on mandating employees to enrol on an apprenticeship and offered existing apprentices the option to withdraw from their programme – a choice that most tax academy apprentices opted for.

Inspectors found that those who remained on programme “did not receive sufficient support and guidance in the early stages of their apprenticeship” and therefore have not “progressed quickly enough and have had their end dates extended by a significant length of time”.

The HMRC told FE Week that the pandemic presented unique challenges to its apprenticeship programme, due to the department’s direct role in delivering financial support to customers.

A spokesperson added: “We welcome Ofsted’s report into our apprenticeship programmes and remain committed to working closely with our educational partners to further improve them, and address Ofsted’s recommendations.”

The tax office had just 168 apprentices at the time of Ofsted’s visit in June 2022. Half are apprentices in the tax academy and study for either the level 3 investigating officer programme or the level 4 accounting/taxation technicians programme. The other half are on the level 4 counter fraud professionals apprenticeship.

Despite past failures in leadership and management, the rest of HMRC’s apprenticeship delivery was judged to be ‘good’.

Inspectors found that apprentices who remain on their programme gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours that they need to carry out their roles successfully. They “value the training and support provided by experienced and expert staff, including trainers, assessors and line managers, that enables them to progress quickly to working on more complex and difficult cases”.

Ofsted reported that leaders and managers now have a “clear strategy” for the apprenticeship programmes that they provide. The three programmes that they run are “designed to address staff shortages in niche government roles, particularly tax collection and counter fraud”.

Safeguarding arrangements were found to be effective.

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