Lifetime Training revives with Ofsted grade 2

England's largest apprenticeship provider lauded for 'substantial' quality improvements as achievement rates rise

England's largest apprenticeship provider lauded for 'substantial' quality improvements as achievement rates rise

England’s largest apprenticeship provider has returned to a ‘good’ Ofsted rating after a turbulent period.

Lifetime Training was praised by the watchdog in a report published today that revealed achievement rates are up 15 percentage points in just a year amid “substantial” improvements in apprentices’ learning experiences.

The provider has stopped working with multiple national employers that were refusing to release apprentices for off-the-job training, worked “more effectively” with employers to ensure apprentices study the right qualifications, and overseen a “careful” redesign of the curriculum for each apprenticeship.

David Smith, who became chief executive of Lifetime in July 2023, said: “We’ve made significant investments in quality, technology, and most importantly our people since our last inspection and have ambitious plans for the future. This rating, for us, is validation of that work and the progress we have made to date.”

Lifetime, which offers over 40 different apprenticeships to around 20,000 people, had long-held a ‘good’ Ofsted grade but was dropped to ‘requires improvement’ in 2022.

It trains apprentices in industries that historically have had a high attrition rate and have been particularly affected by the recent pandemic, such as hospitality, retail, care, business admin, public services, leisure, and early years.

The previous inspection criticised the provider for a focus on financial performance and starts over quality, as well as a lack of face-to-face teaching, off-the-job training and poor achievement rates.

Since then, Lifetime has changed its chief executive and chair twice, and was last year sold by private equity parent Silverfleet Capital to the company’s lenders Alcentra. 

It is currently engaged in a major clawback dispute worth millions with the Department for Education about overclaimed additional learner support funding, which FE Week understands is nearing its conclusion.

Today’s Ofsted report was full of compliments about Lifetime’s focus on quality improvements since the previous inspection.

It said Lifetime has increased the proportion of training it delivers face-to-face, which was previously mostly online, and pulled away from some employers who were unable to release apprentices for their training.

FE Week understands the firm has exited partnerships with less than 15 businesses (which is less than 5 per cent of its partnership base) but Lifetime wouldn’t name who they were.

The provider was also delivering advanced learner loans to a few hundred adults at the point of their last inspection but has since forfeited that contract to consolidate the business.

One key area of improvement related to Lifetime’s qualification achievement rates, which sat at 35 per cent in 2022/23. Ofsted’s report said the proportion of the provider’s apprenticeship completing and achieving their programme has now increased to half – around the same level as 2018/19.

Inspectors said: “The new leadership team has taken swift and effective actions to improve the quality of apprentices’ education and training. This includes a considerable investment in the development of the learning coaches’ teaching skills. Because of these decisive actions, apprentices’ learning experiences have improved substantially.”

Leaders have also worked more effectively with employers to ensure that apprentices “study the right qualifications, receive timely support, and take part in good quality training during their working hours”.

This has helped to reduce the proportion of apprentices who are taking a break from learning or studying beyond their planned end date by about half, the report said.

Lifetime has also “carefully redesigned the curriculum for each apprenticeship” since the last inspection. 

Inspectors found: “They have identified clearly what they want apprentices to know and be able to do when they complete the training. As a result of leaders working more closely with employers, apprentices study content that is current and relevant to their industry.”

There has also been “substantial improvements” to the design and teaching of the English and mathematics functional skills, Ofsted said.

Lucy Auchincloss, partnership development director at Lifetime, said: “We are pleased the inspection team recognised the considerable amount of effort which has been focused on improving learning experiences over the last few years.”

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3 Comments

  1. If you know anything about how achievement rates work in apprenticeships, you’ll know that there is a lot more beneath the surface of this story.

  2. Tony Allen

    I don’t in any way attempt to pour cold water on this, but just how can a provider be good with historically only 1 in 3 apprentices achieving?
    People outside the sector will just not understand how that can be so.
    Please don’t try to tell me QAR and quality are unrelated!

    • “Don’t in anyway attempt to pour cold water on this” but here is my bucket full of cold water that I am pouring! Of course links could be made between QAR and quality but links can also be made between delivering in volatile sectors with high attrition and QAR. You can probably paint it as you see fit based on your agenda.