New provider monitoring visits have been delayed indefinitely by Ofsted.
The inspectorate previously said it would restart the visits from January face-to-face but later announced they would be conducted remotely until at least the February half-term in light of the third national lockdown.
The virtual monitoring visits to providers that are new to delivering apprenticeships were set to get under way on January 25, but Ofsted has now told FE Week these will not be going ahead.
There is also no set date for when they will recommence.
A spokesperson said: “During the national lockdown, we have had to pause new provider monitoring visits (NPMVs) because these visits require inspectors to carry out in-person inspection so that we can fairly judge the progress made, including safeguarding. However, we hope to return to NPMVs as soon as it is possible to do so.
“Currently, we are conducting remote inspections of those that most need it, but we will undertake onsite work where we have serious concerns, which could include new providers.”
FE Week understands the Education and Skills Funding Agency is becoming increasingly concerned about new apprenticeship providers that are going for prolonged periods without oversight from the watchdog following the pause to normal inspection activity since March 2020 amid Covid-19.
Last week, FE Week revealed how a freight company had become an approved apprenticeship provider in March 2020 and over the next eight months recruited more than 1,100 apprentices – more than any other provider in that period – mostly in the care sector.
The firm, called Logistics.com (UK), is now under investigation by the ESFA and faces liquidation.
According to Ofsted’s latest operational note for FE providers, published on February 12, after half term the watchdog will only conduct “progress monitoring visits” to “providers judged to require improvement for overall effectiveness that have not yet received a monitoring visit since their last full inspection”.
The same visits will be made to providers “judged inadequate for overall effectiveness that have not yet received a monitoring visit since their last full inspection, or that are due their second re-inspection monitoring visit (if they continue to be publicly funded)”.
While new providers awating their first Ofsted visit are still not in line, the guidance states that progess monitoring visits will be undertaken at “new providers that are due a full inspection and have received a new provider monitoring visit two years ago or more (subject to a provider’s individual circumstances)”.