Marine specialist takes aim at Ofsted after grade 4 report

'The Ofsted report will mean that the Thames Marine Academy will no longer be able to offer these much needed apprenticeships to the marine industry'

'The Ofsted report will mean that the Thames Marine Academy will no longer be able to offer these much needed apprenticeships to the marine industry'

25 Mar 2022, 10:01

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A marine training provider has accused Ofsted inspectors of lacking “experience” to judge their specialist apprenticeships and has made the “strongest of complaints” following a grade four report. 

Thames Marine Academy Ltd (TMA) confirmed to FE Week that it will no longer be able to offer apprenticeships because of the judgment published this week. 

In its report, Ofsted claimed that apprentices “make very slow progress”, too many are behind with their studies and that most employers, skippers and masters of apprentices “do not know what apprentices are studying”. 

However, Thames Marine Academy’s principal, Edmund Hadnett, has claimed that inspectors used criteria that was inappropriate for a vocational qualification in support of the marine industry. 

“Regrettably, the Ofsted report will mean that the Thames Marine Academy will no longer be able to offer these much needed apprenticeships to the marine industry,” he told FE Week. 

“The Thames Marine Academy and principal employer, GPS Marine, have made the strongest of complaints against Ofsted regarding the recent report citing the poor correlation between the process used for the inspection and the nature of a marine apprenticeship scheme.” 

TMA is a marine training company based on the banks of the River Medway in Kent. It became an approved apprenticeship provider in October 2019 and started training apprentices in January 2020. 

TMA offers standards-based apprenticeships in boatmaster and workboat crewmember, at level three. Currently, there are 12 apprentices on the boatmaster apprenticeship and five apprentices are studying the workboat crewmember apprenticeship. 

Three are aged 16 to 18. At the time of Ofsted’s visit in January 2022, training was a blend of face-to-face group lessons and one-to-one tutorials through live video-conferencing software and independent distance learning. 

Inspectors said: “Too many of the apprentices are behind with their studies. They do not benefit from regular progress reviews with their trainer and employers and rarely receive useful feedback to enable them to improve their work.”

The report claimed that “all apprentices” face delays to the completion of their apprenticeship as a result of leaders failing to ensure that arrangements were in place for their formal examinations and external assessment. 

“Apprentices studying the workboat crewmember standard have received very little training despite being on programme for over a year. Most are losing interest in the apprenticeship and others are restricted in their career progression plans,” the report added. 

Inspectors also found that most employers, skippers and masters of apprentices do not know what apprentices are studying. 

The report said they did not attend progress reviews and were not aware of what apprentices needed to do to achieve. 

However, TMA’s principal took aim against the judgment. 

“Despite the employer and apprentices expressing overwhelming support for the academy and the apprenticeship scheme, Ofsted used criteria that were appropriate to a secondary school rather than methods that aligned with the express purpose of delivering a vocational qualification in support of the marine industry,” he said. 

“The apprentices expressed disgust at the questions they were asked by the inspectors which were considered to insult their maturity and professional competence gained from working in the demanding and challenging environment of the workboat industry.” 

Hadnett claimed it was “clear that neither inspector had any appreciation of what is required to deliver a programme of training in support of the certificates of competence required to be employed as member of crew”. 

He added: “It is considered that Ofsted should amend the process for inspection to address the specific nature of a marine apprenticeship scheme and in order to make an informed assessment inspectors should have relevant experience of the sector of industry they inspect.” 

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “The inspection was carried out in accordance with the further education and skills handbook. Issues raised by the provider after the inspection were reviewed, in line with our complaints process.”

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  1. Phil Hatton

    I can see why this and other providers get upset about the lack of vocational skills set of the inspectors carrying out their evaluation, especially when seeing one of my old colleagues who has the perfect background and qualifications was inspecting elsewhere in the same week. However, the main findings of the report seem pretty clear as to why the grades were arrived at. Having had a previous monitoring visit that pointed out deficiencies the current regime of inspection gives providers time to put things right. So two things – firstly, Ofsted should try and have someone with vocational expertise on the inspection of a specialist provider [they do not seem to be giving this any consideration in their planning], and secondly, new providers act on the findings of monitoring visits so that you put areas for improvement right.