Mystery surrounds late Learndirect performance breach



The nation’s largest FE provider has finally been hit with a serious performance breach notice, a month after its apprenticeship achievement rates plummeted below minimum standards.

But some in the sector are wondering why the notice did not appear earlier – or why it was only eventually included in the government’s notices of concern list on Friday.

The omission is particularly confusing because the issue date listed on the notice is March 14.

The provider giant’s apprenticeship achievement rate tumbled from 65.1 per cent in 2014/15 to just 57.8 per cent for the last academic year, according to national data released last month by the Education and Skills Funding Agency. This brought it below the minimum standards threshold of 62 per cent.

Commenting on this unusual delay, a spokesperson for the company said: “It is not appropriate for Learndirect to comment on a government publication.”

The DfE also declined to provide any comment.

The consequences of being issued a notice of serious breach can include a ban on recruiting new learners or applying for additional funding, according to the agency’s approach to intervention.

Learndirect was one of a number of providers to have fallen foul of recent changes in the way achievement rates are calculated, which led to a slew of notices of concern or serious breach sent to providers.

As previously reported by FE Week, 35 providers were hit with such notices in March for failing to meet minimum standards, according to an ESFA list published in April.

But Learndirect wasn’t among them – nor was it on the list when we reported on its falling achievement rates in June.

The reason for this delay is still unclear, although it could have been connected to firm’s reference number.

FE Week heard rumours back in June that the ESFA had formally informed Learndirect that it would be permitted to switch a new UK Provider Reference Number – which is now its only one on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers.

Such a move would have allowed the provider, which had almost 200,000 learners at its most recent Ofsted report in 2013, in which it was rated ‘good’, to wipe the slate clean concerning low achievement rates.

However, both Learndirect and the ESFA have denied this had been allowed, just days before the backdated notice finally appeared on the list.

Two months before this, FE Week reported that Learndirect employees had been informed they were to be placed in a month-long consultancy period, facing potential job cuts.

A spokesperson told us at the time that this was because it was no longer going to offer GCSEs as part of its early-years courses.

But in June it emerged that up to one in 10 Learndirect staff could face redundancy as a result of a restructuring programme, initiated in response to “uncertainty relating to the outcome of the adult education budget procurement process, and a business decision to focus on levy-only apprenticeship delivery”, according to group chief executive Andy Palmer.



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5 Comments

  1. Andrew Nixon

    I’m a little confused by FE Week’s reporting on minimum standards, as I feel there may be something of a misunderstanding of how they work. A provider with overall apprenticeship achievement rates below 62% isn’t necessarily in breach of minimum standards as it’s actually based on the percentage of frameworks below 62% – if this figure is above 40% then the provider is in breach of minimum standards.

    For example, consider a hypothetical provider with four frameworks. Framework A has 100 leavers with 34 achievers, Framework B has 100 with 70, and Frameworks C and D both have 50 leavers with 35 achievers each. The overall achievement rate would be 58%, but only 25% of frameworks are below 62% so this provider would NOT be in breach of minimum standards.

    I don’t know the situation with Learn Direct and it seems they are indeed in breach of minimum standards, but it is wrong to assume that a provider is in breach of minimum standards just because they are below 62% – indeed it is also possible to be in breach of minimum standards and have achievement rates above 62%!

    • Couldn’t agree more. Sloppy. Many more stories lurk within Minimum standards and NSRT….
      A quick glance at the recently published national success rate tables for 15/16 at institution level show lots of cohorts under the minimum level, Level 2 Basic skills for instance averaging 54% for a large 11,890 cohort.
      That makes up part of a cohort of 32,230 in ‘private sector public funded’ where the average is 47.1% – So Learn Direct are the star performers in that provider group, yet still massively under the minimum standard! (strip out LearnDirect and the other Private sector providers manage 43% for their 20k+ learners) – Perversely it could allow LearnDirect to state they are significantly above benchmark for similar providers, even if every other learner fails to achieve! Low attainment at basic skills will be impacting on attainment levels in other subjects yet policy makers, funding bodies, sector commentators give it little apparent attention.

  2. Just what is going on? Is it one set of rules for Learndirect as they are such a huge provider with over 200,000 learners and their failure to comply with what the rest of us manage will send the government in to panic mode?

    Just when is their inspection report going to be made public – this is tax payers hard earned cash hanging in limbo, had it been anyone else they would have had a definitive answer by now – are they to remain solvent or not!

    If not, then what are the chances the HMRC will give us all a tax rebate this year? Yet another example of substandard service from the ESFA and on a monumental scale to boot.

  3. David Douglas

    I think it strange that there were delays in announcement and am apparent wiping clean of the slate by change of identity number

    If this had been a small provider would the same privilege been allowed

    Where is the governance what were the
    Directors asking the performance managers

    One rule for the large different for the small

    Something stinks