An independent training provider will keep its government apprenticeship contract despite an ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted because of “unique” circumstances, FE Week understands.
Officials at the Education and Skills Funding Agency have taken the unheard-of decision to retain the funding agreement for Medipro’s emergency care training and there will be no suspension on new starts.
After the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust’s apprenticeship contract was terminated in late 2021 amid safeguarding concerns, the ESFA and Health Education England asked Medipro to take on 537 apprentices, in addition to its own 700 apprentices.
In recognition of the “calamity” facing the sector and learners who would have been unable to complete their programme, Medipro agreed and spent £500,000 to open a new training school to house the apprentices.
However the provider received the education watchdog’s lowest possible grade in a report published on Wednesday.
Despite the report being full of praise for the training delivery, inspectors judged Medipro to be ‘inadequate’ overall because leaders had allegedly failed to act “quickly or effectively enough” to ensure a smooth transition for apprentices who the company was forced to step in and save.
The majority of the transferred apprentices, many of whom were already past their planned end date and carried over very little allocated funding, have now completed their programme. At the time of Ofsted’s visit to Medipro in November, however, 230 of the apprentices were still on programme.
The inspectorate said “too many” of the transferred apprentices are “demotivated” and “frustrated” by the “lack of guidance and clarity they receive about their progress”.
Ofsted also claimed that the apprentices had experienced “long delays in the return of marked work and, in too many cases, have been without a tutor for a long period of time”.
Medipro leaders “have not put in place the infrastructure and resources needed to support the significant growth in provision following the transfer,” the report said.
“Leaders have not ensured that transferred apprentices have had a good learning experience. Consequently, too many of these apprentices are not making rapid enough progress.”
The ESFA’s rules state that it will terminate an apprenticeship provider’s funding agreement if the company receives an ‘inadequate’ from Ofsted. The agency can however decide to not terminate in exceptional circumstances.
The case highlights the risks for providers that agree to step in to complete the training for large cohorts of apprentices who unexpectedly find themselves without provision.
Medipro told FE Week the agency has contacted them to confirm it will not cancel the apprenticeship contract but will monitor their provision.
Brian English, managing director of Medipro, said: “Medipro is grateful to ESFA for taking the context of the report and our unique circumstances into account by deciding not to cancel our contract. This allows us to continue to support students in a much-needed sector. We will continue to engage with them whilst we are making the required improvements.”
Medipro was given ‘requires improvement’ ratings in four of the five fields judged.
Apart from those who have been transferred from another provider, inspectors found that apprentices are “fully attentive, motivated to learn and eager to participate in sessions”.
The report said leaders and managers provide training that “meets the skills needs of the emergency and urgent care sector”, adding that leaders are qualified paramedics and understand the industry “extremely well”.
Leaders and managers have also “designed a curriculum that contributes to meeting a significant skills gap in the sector” and recruit “qualified staff who are highly experienced in their field”.
English said he was “disappointed” with Ofsted’s rating which he feels is “not a true reflection on the overall standard of training we provide”.
“The report focused on the learners who were passed planned end date and many of them were in the group that transferred to Medipro from another provider,” he told FE Week.
“Given the numbers of apprentices involved, the accelerated timeframe required for the transfer and that the learners were on paper-based portfolios, this process for the transfer was not straightforward but we supported it to ensure there was minimal disruption to this group of learners and to support the clinical workforce at a challenged time.”
Phil Carver, regional director East of England at Health Education England, said: “Health Education England has fully supported Medipro as appropriate in relation to our apprentices. We will continue to work with the ESFA and other stakeholder partners to ensure our learners training pathway is not disrupted to ensure we protect the future NHS workforce.”
An East of England Ambulance Service spokesperson said it was aware that some of its apprentices who transferred to Medipro have had “some difficulties which is reflected in the Ofsted report and we are sorry for their experiences”.
“We are committed to working with Medipro to successfully support all apprentices through their qualification,” they added.
The ESFA declined to comment.