Ofsted finds apprentices on wrong programme for 4 years

Long-running apprenticeship provider now faces contract termination

Long-running apprenticeship provider now faces contract termination

A long-running apprenticeship provider is facing contract termination after Ofsted discovered that some apprentices were on the wrong programme for four years.

The Stockport Engineering Training Association (SETA), which was set up in 1966 and specialises in engineering apprenticeships in Greater Manchester, was handed an ‘inadequate’ report today.

One of the key reasons for the grade was because inspectors found apprentices were enrolled onto the level 3 engineering technician apprenticeship instead of the level 3 maintenance operations and engineering technician apprenticeship.

The report said leaders only recently identified this error when arranging apprentices’ final assessments at the end of their programme – four years after they started.

The apprentices are now enrolled on the correct programmes but a few employers were not made aware of this, Ofsted added.

Inspectors also found that apprentices nearing their final assessments had significant gaps in learning and their progress and achievement have been “severely impeded as a result of this lack of oversight”.

Other apprentices were still on their apprenticeship two years beyond their planned end date.

But there was some praise throughout Ofsted’s report, which said apprentices display positive attitudes to their learning, most enjoy their courses, develop new skills and confidence, and value the support they receive from their employer engagement managers, trainers and workplace managers.

Private training providers that receive a grade four from Ofsted typically have their skills funding contracts and ability to deliver apprenticeships terminated by the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency.

A spokesperson from SETA said the provider was “extremely disappointed” with the final Ofsted report and explained the situation which led to apprentices being on the wrong programme was not as straightforward as Ofsted’s report suggests.

“Apprentices were not enrolled onto the wrong standard at the start of their apprenticeship, learners were enrolled on the correct apprenticeship, but their employer later changed their job role in the workplace, this then required a change in the apprenticeship standard.  The learners were still learning but we accept that the paperwork was not processed timely,” the spokesperson said.

“This had been discussed with the employers at the time but the delayed paperwork resulted in the employer not realising the change had been completed. This was one of the factual inaccuracies that we requested Ofsted to change the wording of, but this was refused.”

SETA added that Covid-19 was a major factor in apprentices going beyond their planned end date, but claimed Ofsted did not consider the pandemic when making their judgements – as several other providers have complained in recent months.

The spokesperson said the provider is now “awaiting confirmation from the ESFA with regard to the action they are going to take regarding our contract”.

SETA was last visited by Ofsted in 2016, at which time the provider was judged to be ‘good’. The education watchdog’s latest report said the quality of training that apprentices receive has “significantly declined since the previous inspection”.

They put this down to leaders not successfully managing the transition from delivering frameworks to teaching the new-style apprenticeship standards introduced in 2017.

Leaders continue to focus on qualification and unit completion rather than the development of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that the apprenticeship standards require, according to the report.

Ofsted said that in some instances, leaders meet employers’ needs at the expense of apprentices’ needs. Inspectors found that, at the request of a few employers, leaders have prioritised the achievement of qualifications over the completion of apprentices’ final assessments.

Consequently, these apprentices have not completed their apprenticeships on time and are unable to move on to their next stage in their learning and careers.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan raised concern last year, when she was skills minister, about apprentices completing qualifications that are part of their apprenticeship early in their programme and then not progressing on to their end-point assessment – a key feature of the new-style standards. She ordered a review into this as part of a wider investigation into the reasons why half of apprentices currently drop out before completing nationally.

Ofsted also criticised SETA for taking a “haphazard approach” to teaching the curriculum, after finding that on “too many occasions” leaders and trainers reorder teaching to suit the availability of teaching staff or to maximise the number of apprentices in classes.

SETA said it has have delivered engineering apprenticeships in the Northwest and surrounding areas for over 50 years, “successfully training over 12,000 engineering apprentices in various disciplines”.

“If our provision is not available it will leave a massive void,” the provider’s spokesperson added.

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  1. A fair bit to unpick here…Seta’s comments seem pretty genuine to me.

    “Apprentices were not enrolled onto the wrong standard at the start of their apprenticeship, learners were enrolled on the correct apprenticeship, but their employer later changed their job role in the workplace, this then required a change in the apprenticeship standard”

    To report that they were on the wrong programme for four years is misleading.

    There is a complex tripartite relationship between apprentices, employers and providers and they appear to be an easy target for Ofsted and the media. If something happens with the learner, the provider gets slated. If something happens with the employer, the provider gets slated.

    Being critical to help raise standards is good and necessary thing. Ofsted and a responsible media both have a role in that. Being unfairly critical or overly simplistic is not a good thing and should be called out.

    • Phil Hatton

      Surely as a provider, if you do have to change at the request of the employer, you have detailed this in your SAR and would have got employers who had requested it to be interviewed by Ofsted? Four years seems a long time for a job to suddenly change. One of the problems is the lack of words in reports in order to explain things thoroughly to inform other providers or potential employers reading reports. Because a provider says that Ofsted are unfair does not mean it is true, but it does show why having an accurate SAR and a good nominee who understands their provision and apprenticeships are so important to ensure a fair inspection takes place.

      • I agree that one provider disagreeing with Ofsted doesn’t make it true, but there does appear to be an uptick in complaints about judgements recently. Whether true or not, Ofsted’s credibility lies in its fairness.

        I reckon there is also an issue with the writing style of reports, which largely avoid quantitative description, they can stimulate a ‘factual drift’ which can erode perceived fairness. Nowhere in the Ofsted report, nor this article does it state when the employer changed job roles, but it has been assumed that because the MOET standard is four years they must have been on the wrong programme for the entirety. Then the morphing of scale where the Ofsted report states a ‘few’ apprentices, which this article then re-reports as ‘some’ apprentices. Suddenly, it comes across as a more serious issue.