Ofsted has officially downgraded England’s largest apprenticeship provider to a grade 3, in a report published this morning that criticises the firm’s focus on financial performance and starts over quality.
Lifetime Training was also slated by inspectors for a lack of face-to-face teaching, off-the-job training, poor achievement rates and insufficient monitoring of delivery.
While some of the provider’s almost 20,000 learners are positive about their learning experience, others have become “disillusioned and demotivated”.
But Ofsted did identify good aspects of Lifetime Training’s offer, such as the relationship between most learners and coaches, a “valuable” collaborative approach with employers, and how apprentices make a positive contribution to their workplace through the skills they have developed.
FE Week revealed yesterday that the provider was set to go from a ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’ rating overall following an inspection in May.
The report, published today, includes four ‘requires improvement’ judgements and two – for behaviour and attitudes and adult learning programmes – ‘good’ judgements.
Lifetime Training has recruited more apprentices and secured more levy funding than any other provider in the country for several years. With around 900 staff, the firm delivers to big-name employers mostly in hospitality and adult care including the NHS, KFC, McDonalds, Wetherspoons, B&Q and David Lloyd, as well as the civil service.
Most training and support sessions for learners currently take place online, but the company is gradually reintroducing face-to-face training following the pandemic.
Ofsted warned that too many apprentices find the mainly remote online learning approach “either difficult to access technically or too much like unsupported self-study”.
“They dislike the lack of face-to-face training. Too many of these apprentices have not had the continuity and consistency of support from coaching staff they have needed. Consequently, the rate and depth of these apprentices’ learning have been slowed.”
Ofsted also found that governance arrangements “are not wholly effective” because they are focused “primarily on monitoring aspects of the financial performance of the organisation, such as the number of new enrolments and those who have completed their learning”.
“Governors do not focus enough on challenging leaders to improve all aspects of the quality of provision,” today’s report added.
Inspectors said Lifetime’s newly appointed chair – Geoff Russell, who used who used to head up the Skills Funding Agency – has identified this weakness and has “firm plans to recruit more board-level expertise in quality improvement and to ensure leaders accord a higher priority to enacting whatever improvements are needed”.
Lifetime made several leadership changes just before Ofsted visited, including replacing the firm’s long-serving chief executive Alex Khan with Jon Graham who joined from JTL Training.
Ofsted found that leaders’ implementation of their curriculums “is not consistently good and does not sufficiently meet the needs of all apprentices”, while leaders have also “not been monitoring and evaluating the quality and impact of their provision with sufficient rigour or planning for improvement in ways that are specific and measurable”.
A minority of apprentices struggle to achieve functional skills qualifications in English or mathematics, which means they cannot start their end-of-course assessments.
Lifetime’s achievement rates have been falling steadily: in 2015/16 the provider recorded an overall apprenticeship achievement of 67.6 per cent, which declined to 55.3 per cent in the latest available provider-level achievement rate tables for 2018/19.
Ofsted said the provider’s leaders recognise that apprentices’ achievement rates have not been high enough in all apprenticeships, but so far, their actions to increase the proportion completing their qualifications “have had only a modest impact”.
Leaders had also “not until recently” recognised the “full extent to which apprentices have not all been getting the training they need in order to develop substantial new knowledge, skills and behaviours”.
One of the most concerning issues for Lifetime was proving that at least 20 per cent off-the-job training was being delivered to apprentices, which Cornish blamed on the pandemic.
Apprentices “too often” spend their own time completing their off-the-job training assignments at home outside of work hours, Ofsted found.
Cornish said: “We have already taken steps to address the feedback and are confident we will see a rapid and significant improvement in the areas identified during this inspection.”