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.