Ofsted finds ‘concerning number’ of sexual harassment allegations at apprenticeship provider

Ofsted has begun clamping down on 'ineffective' safeguarding measures, including against sexual abuse

Ofsted has begun clamping down on 'ineffective' safeguarding measures, including against sexual abuse

An apprenticeship trailblazer has been branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted after finding a “concerning number” of sexual harassment allegations.

Employer provider PGL Travel, which has 42 apprentices including 27 on the level 3 outdoor activity instructor standard it helped develop, has lost its grade two awarded in 2009.

This was after inspectors uncovered safeguarding concerns such as: “Leaders and managers have not acted rapidly enough to assess, and consequently take actions to mitigate, the risks to staff and apprentices of sexual harassment and/or assault.”

Leaders had identified a “concerning” number of allegations of sexual harassment and assault between staff at the provider’s 14 UK residential centres, the report continues.

They arranged a dedicated meeting to take preventative action and stop these issues reoccurring, yet Ofsted’s report, published today, found “leaders did not have a sufficient focus on the circumstances surrounding the allegations, or fully assess the risks to staff and apprentices.

“Consequently, leaders were unable to put in place effective actions to deal with or reduce instances of these allegations between staff, which have continued to be reported in the months since the meeting was held.”

PGL Travel said this was a meeting of a working group on preventing sexual harassment which was set up in July and has since met three times.

Watchdog warned providers ineffective safeguarding would lead to grade four

Ofsted has been redoubling its efforts to investigate sexual misconduct at providers following the Everyone’s Invited revelations of widespread sexual abuse in education settings, which came to prominence last spring.

Since full inspections returned in September, inspectors have been reviewing providers’ sexual abuse records and looking at how providers handle related incidents.

Changes made to the inspection handbook in June warned that if safeguarding is ineffective, including around addressing learners’ concerns about sexual abuse, “this is likely to lead to a judgement of inadequate leadership and management”.

Leadership and management was the only area of the report PGL Travel was rated ‘inadequate’ for.

Provider has brought in ‘numerous’ measures after harassment allegations

PGL Travel has told FE Week it “simply does not tolerate this behaviour,” but these situations “sadly do arise” as they employ more than 2,000 seasonal staff at peak times.

The provider insisted it has “strong and open procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault that are underpinned by robust disciplinary action”.

All allegations of sexual assault are “always” referred to police and it has seen no convictions related to the provider in the last five years, a spokesperson said.

“We share Ofsted’s view that employers need to be more proactive in addressing and mitigating the risk of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

“We have already implemented numerous measures to increase awareness, improve training and reduce incidence.”

PGL Travel was founded in 1957 and runs outdoor educational activity experiences such as axe throwing, quad biking, and rifle shooting for children and young people aged seven to 17, its website says.

Its safeguarding measures came under the spotlight last month also when Ofsted suspended PGL Travel’s childcare registration to provide activities for unaccompanied children on half-term holidays.

This was after visits to five PGL centres during the half-term and found staff misusing substances and health and safety and environmental health concerns.

PGL Travel later insisted they had referred the substance misuse allegation to the police and say they found no evidence.

Leaders failed to identify safeguarding risks, Ofsted finds

The apprenticeship monitoring visit, conducted at the end of October, found apprentices were “not made sufficiently aware of the risks around them” and do not revisit topics such as consent, appropriate behaviour, and an individual’s right to change their mind.

The report also highlights how a number of PGL Travel’s sites are in areas where county lines activity has been identified, where drug traffickers recruit vulnerable young people into their operation.

Yet the provider’s leaders had failed to note this in their risk assessment, so failed to assess “the risk this poses to staff and apprentices, particularly those apprentices who are living and working away from home for the first time and could be vulnerable to such activity”.

Inspectors did record how apprentices learn significant new skills during their training, especially on the level 3 instructor standard which PGL was part of the trailblazer group for.

The report also compliments how training is organised into intensive blocks around peak activity times at the residential centres, so learners are given time to focus on learning.

Yet while managers conduct a range of quality assurance activities, the outcomes from these do not “sufficiently focus on, or consequently identify, areas for development that will help them improve the quality of the apprenticeships they offer”.

On the overall report, PGL Travel said it was “extremely disappointed” by the outcome and they have “already embarked on a comprehensive quality improvement plan regarding our working practices across PGL and are working closely with Ofsted and the Education and Skills Funding Agency”.

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