A university has lost its ‘outstanding’ Ofsted grade following a move into the apprenticeships market.

Kingston University dropped to ‘good’ in its first visit from the watchdog since 2015.

Grade one education providers are being inspected this term for the first time since 2010, after an exemption was removed last year.

This week’s report for Kingston University was full of praise for its level 3 art foundation course – the only provision in scope during its last inspection – where inspectors said staff have “successfully maintained the outstanding quality”.

But it was the university’s newly designed apprenticeships that scuppered its effort to retain the top grade. Inspectors still strongly commended the university’s provision in this area but warned of staff recruitment issues and occasional poor communication with employers.

The university began offering level 5 and 6 apprenticeships, in areas such as nursing, civil engineering, environmental practices and chartered surveying, in 2017. It had around 430 apprentices at the time of Ofsted’s inspection last month.

The degree apprenticeships were developed in response to skills shortages in London. For example, the nursing associate apprenticeship helps to address staffing shortages in local NHS trusts, while the social work programme helps support the local council to recruit and train new social workers. 

Ofsted described the apprenticeships as “effective” and praised leaders for having invested “significantly” to support their introduction of the programmes.

But the watchdog found that managers have struggled to recruit sufficient staff in the construction-related disciplines, which has resulted in “heavy workloads and pressure on staff time in this area”. And “occasionally”, apprenticeship staff “do not communicate sufficiently and frequently with apprentices’ employers”, inspectors found.

“Where this is the case, teachers do not hold apprenticeship review meetings in a timely manner. Employers are therefore not always clear about the progress of the apprentices and unable to ensure workplace opportunities link with classroom-based activities,” the report said.

But overall, Ofsted reported that learners feel “privileged” to have the opportunity to study at the university.

A Kingston University spokesperson said: “The university has been developing a number of degree apprenticeship courses over the past four years, and this new provision was included in the Ofsted review for the first time this year.

“The relatively new degree apprenticeship provision, which has a much larger student cohort than the foundation programme, was ranked good, reflecting the investment made by Kingston University to deliver high-quality compliant apprenticeships, as well as supporting the needs of the employers in different sectors.”

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