London providers allowed to keep AEB contracts after Ofsted ‘inadequate’

Greater London Authority confirms two AEB providers will see out their contract to the end of July

Greater London Authority confirms two AEB providers will see out their contract to the end of July

Two London training providers stung with ‘inadequate’ Ofsted ratings last year have been allowed to see out their adult education budget contracts.

Care First Training Ltd and London Vocational College Limited both received grade four ratings in inspection reports published in September 2022.

Both were swiftly removed from the register of apprenticeship training providers and banned from delivering apprenticeships, in line with central government guidance from the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

But the pair, who also held adult education contracts in London which has devolved powers for that provision, have since had monitoring visits from the education watchdog, both in March with reports published this month.

Now, Greater London Authority has confirmed that their adult education budget contracts will continue until the end of July 2023, in line with the original end date. It means the providers have been allowed to continue for nearly a whole academic year despite the concerns raised by the education watchdog.

The authority said the decision to retain the providers’ contracts was to ensure the programmes were closed with minimum impact to learners.

It added that its performance and intervention policy includes termination where necessary, including for grade four Ofsted ratings, but this is at the discretion of the authority and made on a case-by-case basis rather than an arbitrary decision made across the board.

According to the GLA’s AEB allocations, London Vocational College held a contract for £2.5 million from 2019 to 2023, while Care First had a contract worth just under £1.5 million from 2021 to 2023.

At the time of their inspections last year, 70 adult learners were studying at Care First while London Vocational College had 664 adult learners on programmes ranging from entry level to level 3.

Greater London Authority’s stance is one mirrored across most mayoral combined authorities.

All of the authorities confirmed they took a discretionary approach on whether to terminate AEB contracts for providers rated ‘inadequate’, except for Liverpool City Region which takes a more hardline approach.

A spokesperson for Liverpool City Region said: “Under Liverpool City Region terms, an ‘inadequate’ rating for quality for a contract for service provider is considered as a breach of contract. In these situations, in line with the Department for Education’s policies dating back to rigour and responsiveness in skills, contract for service providers can expect to have their contracts terminated.

“Where providers have quality-related issues outside of inspection or have ‘insufficient progress’ identified, a range of risk-based interventions are employed, including recovery plans monitored with increased levels of support and challenge on a more frequent basis.”

West of England was the only authority not to respond to FE Week’s approach for comment.

The ESFA’s contracts guidance states that it has discretionary powers which can include options such as suspending new starts, reducing payments or terminating the contract entirely following an Ofsted grade four report.

However, it is understood that on non-devolved AEB contracts the ESFA usually opts to terminate within three months of an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report.

The only exception to this rule appeared in the case of Learndirect, which was England’s biggest training provider when it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in the summer of 2017 and was allowed to continue its national AEB contract until July 2018.

Officials in the DfE explained at the time that the provider had around 70,000 learners and allowing it to complete its programmes would minimise disruption for learners.

The Department for Education was unable to provide another instance of where it had allowed a provider to see out its contract, explaining that it did not comment on the contractual performance of individual training providers it funds.

London Vocational College declined to comment, while Care First did not respond to FE Week’s request for comment.

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