Discord between Ofsted and a mayoral combined authority has emerged after inspectors criticised a provider for enrolling graduates on a level 1 programme.
First Face to Face Limited was found to be making ‘insufficient progress’ in all three areas of a monitoring visit for its adult learning provision, funded by North of Tyne Combined Authority.
Inspectors found the provider “recruits too many learners who are undergraduates or have degrees” to their level 1 computerised accountancy and understanding enterprise programme, when the learners “are not planning to set up their own business”.
“These learners have enrolled on the programmes simply to enhance their curriculum vitae,” the report reads.
Information on learners’ prior qualifications is gathered, but they are enrolled on programmes that are “not sufficiently challenging”.
At the time of the visit, 12 learners were studying the computerised accountancy course and fewer than five were on the understanding enterprise programmes.
‘Clear rationale’ for allowing graduates on level 1 courses
In response to the report, the provider’s managing director Charlotte Windebank said the combined authority had “specifically commissioned” the adult education provision to “respond to low business start-up rates in the northeast,” and was intended to support entrepreneurial skills “regardless of prior attainment”.
A spokesperson for North of Tyne Combined Authority argued there was a “clear rationale” for the level 1 programme which “supports undergraduates into self-employment and social enterprise”.
Ofsted responded: “During a monitoring visit, inspectors check that programmes are at a suitable level for learners and that they benefit from the intended purpose of the course.”
Adult education budgets were devolved in six areas with a mayoral combined authority in 2019.
North of Tyne Combined Authority took over its £23 million adult education budget in 2020, behind the first wave, but ahead of Sheffield City Region and West Yorkshire combined authorities, which took control of their local budgets last August.
The disparity between Ofsted’s idea of best practice and the combined authority’s plans for its adult education provision sets up a potential future conflict between the central government body and devolved areas.
Ofsted criticised how learners study same programme
Ofsted’s report also criticised leaders for not having “effective oversight” of learners’ progress and for not intervening “quickly enough” when students fall behind on the computerised accountancy programme.
All learners receive the same programme content regardless of prior knowledge and can “competently complete” course workbook activities before they start the programme.
Leaders do not ensure all the provider’s teaching and pastoral staff complete safeguarding and ‘prevent’ duty training “quickly enough”.
Windebank said the provider was “obviously disappointed” with the report, “but are taking steps to ensure it fits the Ofsted framework when we get our full inspection in the new year”.
The provider’s leaders were complimented on the “useful advice about relevant careers” received by learners, though inspectors highlighted that leaders do not ensure access to “impartial careers advice about other opportunities”.
Appropriately qualified tutors also use their skills and experience to develop the skills of learners, who improve their confidence and gain useful networking opportunities.
North of Tyne Combined Authority said it will continue to monitor the provider and are working with them while First Face to Face implements their “robust” action plan.