Minister ‘behind’ action over inadequate provider

Moves to tackle poor provision by Elmfield were ordered personally by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock before its inadequate grading from Ofsted had even been published, FE Week can reveal.

The minister is understood to have been furious with the provider following success rates, as reported in FE Week two months ago, showing just 47.5 per cent of Elmfield’s 13,420 leavers in the retail and wholesale sector, aged 25+, walked away with an apprenticeship certificate in 2011/12.

He wanted action to protect learners, which resulted in the Skills Funding Agency issuing a notice of serious breach this month after the Ofsted report, and stopping Elmfield taking on new learners.

Ofsted found outcomes for learners were inadequate and the majority of apprentices did not complete their framework within the planned time.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “We decided to invoke the right to impose additional conditions of funding within the breach notice and stopped Elmfield taking on any more learners.

“This underlines our tough approach to protect students and root out poor performance wherever it occurs.”

An agency spokesperson confirmed action against Elmfield, which delivers training for more than 11,000 learners, including apprentices at Barclays, UK Mail and Eon, had been agreed before the publication of the Ofsted report and discussed with the provider.

“Prior to the report being published and due to the serious nature of the concerns, the agency decided in advance to invoke its right to impose additional conditions of funding within the breach notice,” she said.

The Ofsted grading also resulted in the resignation of Elmfield founder and chief executive Ged Syddall, although he is believed to remain its majority shareholder.

The agency spokesperson added: “We have instructed Elmfield that while under a notice of serious breach it will not take on any new learners, work with any new employers or be awarded growth, until we can be assured provision has improved to an acceptable standard.

“Failure to make satisfactory progress may lead to termination of the contract. An inadequate re-inspection would lead to contract termination.”

Despite the grading blow, Ofsted acknowledged Elmfield’s success rates in newer areas of provision, accounting for around 20 per cent of its delivery and including banking, were good, although some elements required improvement.

Barclays said it was standing by Elmfield, even though it would be unable to take on new apprentices.

A Barclays spokesperson said: “While these Ofsted results predate our programme, the Ofsted report itself is highly complimentary of the success rates Elmfield has achieved for Barclays.

“We therefore look forward to demonstrating the strong results that our programme is delivering in future inspections.”

UK Mail and Eon declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Elmfield, which has 413 staff, said: “Elmfield is continuing to work closely with the Skills Funding Agency and can confirm our contract allocation for 2013/14 is currently under review.

“This is due to our contract with Morrisons coming to an end later this month. A revision of our contract arrangements for the forthcoming year is expected shortly.”

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  1. As someone who posts in his own name — a very small band of brothers — I view anonymous postings with caution. In this case, I can comment from direct observation of the Barclays progamme as I was invited by them to several of their employer engagement events, the most recently two weeks ago in Wimbledon.

    Barclays always present some of their apprentices to the businesses and ask them to talk about their experiences and answer questions, including about their training. As the above quote shows, Barclays are happy with their programme and how effective it has been in bringing people into the bank despite any formal qualifications. I wish we could hear quotes from these real youngsters and would be happy put them in touch with Rebecca.

    This programme is reaching out to a very difficult cohort and doing it really well. I wish other employers would try as hard to be “youth friendly”.

    • Morianna

      Peter, I am unsure as to your capacity but I also have observed the Barclays contract first hand, and the Assessors I encountered were doing an excellent job, but as with ALL Training Providers there are good and bad Assessors as well as Learners.

      • I am glad that Morianna and I offer a small drop of common sense in this over-heated debate. I think the common ground is that Barclays are totaly committed to achieving great outcomes for young people — which is more than can be said for some employers who manage to get employees trained at our expense and with little if any commitment e.g. Morrisons.

        This should be a wake up call for every single training provider/college and employer who think that investing in young people’s lives is a game.

        It isn’t, and government also needs a wake up call and learn from those who get it right.

  2. When the Training Standards Council started the first inspections of work-based learning 15 years ago there were staggering amounts of poor and corrupt practice. Things quickly changed as they were identified and many jumped before being caught. I hate to see anyone talk about ‘bad learners’ as in a long career in education I have not had to blame any individual learners. The same goes for poor assessors. If provision is managed correctly they will be highly visible, so will either improve or be shipped out. I really do think that there is not enough identification of poor practice by awarding bodies particularly with larger organisations that buy their products. Just over a year ago much of the poor practice highlighted by the Panorama programme should have been spotted by robust external verification and approval processes. When I wrote the first NVQ back in 1987 with John Stuart of City and Guilds we had a very definite view of how the EV role should prevent any ‘dodgy’ practice but I am being made aware of schemes where over reliance on product evidence, witness testimonies and professional discussion are happening with very little direct observation of performance that show national standards are being achieved.