A long-running hairdressing apprenticeship provider is legally challenging a damaging Ofsted grade, saying the “shock” report fails to consider the impact of Covid-19.
UK Training & Development Limited (UKTD Ltd), based in Hemel Hampstead and set up in 1998, was dealt an inadequate rating after an inspection with the education watchdog in July. Its funding contracts are likely to be terminated by the government as a result.
In a report published last week, Ofsted claimed that leaders are “not ambitious” for most of their near-200 apprentices, adding that too many do not secure employment following their apprenticeship and fewer than half stay at their current employer.
Inspectors also said apprentices often struggle to meet the demands of work and study because they “do not regularly receive their entitlement to time away from work” and claimed that apprentices were “frustrated” with the training and assessment provided.
But the provider is furious with Ofsted’s report. Managing director Theresa Wisniewski has sought legal advice, and is now preparing to challenge the inspectorate through the courts.
Her main issue is that inspectors allegedly failed to properly consider the impact of Covid on the hairdressing and barbering industry “despite the inspection handbook requiring that inspectors do this”.
UKTD is the third provider in recent months to complain that Ofsted is handing out grade fours without considering the part the pandemic has played on apprenticeship delivery – and to follow it up with legal action.
Wisniewski said her provider’s report was “devoid of any details about Covid”.
“The practicalities of work-based learning in a sector that had restrictions imposed for months after lockdown, which ended long after other sectors had already started the recovery phase, has not been assessed in our view,” she told FE Week.
“The impact lasted for at least two years.”
This is UKTD’s third ‘inadequate’ Ofsted inspection since 2017.
The previous two were based on safeguarding failings. It is not clear why the Education and Skills Funding Agency did not terminate the provider’s contracts following the previous grade four judgements, as is usual practice for independent training providers. The agency can, however, decide not to terminate contracts in exceptional circumstances.
The ESFA declined to comment on whether it would terminate UKTD’s contracts following its latest grade four.
UKTD received an improved ‘requires improvement’ report in 2019, and Ofsted found they had made ‘reasonable progress’ in a monitoring visit in 2021.
But last week’s ‘inadequate’ report said leaders and managers “have not rectified many of the weaknesses identified at previous Ofsted inspections. “Leaders accept modest improvements too readily and have an unrealistic picture of their current position … As a result, persistent weaknesses remain.”
Although the watchdog noted that safeguarding arrangements are effective, and apprentices feel valued by staff in their learning environments.
Wisniewski said: “We are naturally very disappointed with the Ofsted inspection findings, and we have instructed solicitors to assist us challenge the findings in the report. Only a year ago we were found to be making ‘reasonable progress’ in all areas for improvement inspected by Ofsted so the current findings have come as a shock.
“It is very frustrating for any provider when outcomes lack consistency and seem to be dependent on which inspection team arrives on the day.”
Angela Sandhal of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who will be assisting the provider with legal action, said: “My client is concerned that the current inspection findings are part of a pattern of grade four inspections at a time when providers are still in the Covid recovery phase.
“We have asked Ofsted to provide us with the raw data gathered during the inspection process but so far they have failed to do this.”