Ofsted denies going soft on employers despite IfA notes

Ofsted has been forced to deny it would reduce its inspections of apprenticeships employer-providers to “samples”, despite the secret release of new guidance suggesting otherwise.

According to briefing notes leaked to FE Week from a recent stakeholder event for the Institute of Apprenticeships, Ofsted is slated to “continue to inspect training providers and sample inspection of employers”.

Confronted with our findings, a red-faced spokesperson for the inspectorate insisted that it “is not planning to change how we inspect training providers and employers”.

They said: “We will continue to observe on-the-job as well as off-the-job apprenticeship training to judge overall quality of training, learning and experience.

“Our inspectors visit some employers’ premises as part of the inspection process to observe and speak to apprentices and trainers in their place of work.”

The Department for Education however declined to comment, and told us to refer all our enquiries back to Ofsted.

FE Week reported last June that firms taking on apprentices had been advised by the AELP to stick “to their core business” and use experienced providers – after Citroën UK was humiliated with an ‘inadequate’ rating following an inspection.

The watchdog’s damning verdict on the car manufacturer meant that a quarter of employers inspected under the new common inspection framework launched the previous September had been awarded the lowest possible rating.

Organisations engaging with the apprenticeship programme for the first time under the [apprenticeship] levy may be better off sticking to their core business

The news provoked AELP boss Mark Dawe into a dire warning.

“Those organisations engaging with the apprenticeship programme for the first time under the [apprenticeship] levy may be better off sticking to their core business and instead using the services of an experienced training provider,” he said.

It soon emerged that Jaguar Land Rover, the British car manufacturer and employer-provider often lauded by ministers for its apprenticeship scheme, had itself been hit with a shock grade three rating after its own Ofsted inspection.

Concern remains among colleges and ITPs that the government wants Ofsted to go easier on employer-providers, for example in terms of performance monitoring and inspection, because ministers are understood to want more firms with apprentices running their own training.

Paul Joyce, Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills, attempted to allay such fears at the AELP’s annual conference last June.

He insisted there would be no special treatment for employers that become providers in order to use their apprenticeship levy funding, after the new system goes live from April this year.

He told delegates that inspections would carry on “regardless of where that provision is delivered”.

“I can assure you we will not have a two-tier inspection system,” he added.

A DfE spokesperson told FE Week at the time that Mr Joyce’s comments on not having a two-tier approach “are correct” and said the government “will be inviting feedback on the administrative process”.

She added that ministers and civil servants “continue to work closely with Ofsted who welcome feedback to ensure that their inspection approaches are appropriate.”

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