Ofsted surrenders in secret legal battle over ‘fatally flawed’ inspection

Sector body overturns 'inadequate' judgment and accuses watchdog of 'sub-standard' assessment

Sector body overturns 'inadequate' judgment and accuses watchdog of 'sub-standard' assessment

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A major manufacturing body has overturned an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted judgment following a year-long legal battle that the inspectorate was forced to back down from, FE Week can reveal.

Make UK is now set to be judged as ‘good’ following a reinspection just months after it was told it would be handed the lowest possible judgment, which would have closed its training division and led to around 120 job losses.

The firm suppressed the grade four after forking out over half a million pounds defending itself through the courts. It argued that the inspection, which made allegedly unsubstantiated claims of “misogynistic” behaviour, was “fatally flawed”.

FE Week understands that Ofsted pulled out of a judicial review hearing scheduled for last month at the eleventh hour, and at least one inspector has been suspended.

This is the second time in the space of a year that Ofsted has rowed back on an ‘inadequate’ judgment for a private training provider only to reinspect the company and upgrade it to ‘good’.

Make UK has called for “urgent reform” to Ofsted’s inspection model in light of the saga.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We have had no choice but to robustly challenge the outcome of a sub-standard Ofsted assessment that was fundamentally inaccurate and based on a fatally flawed inspection.

“Our experiences suggest that the Ofsted model for assessing private training providers is not fit for purpose and requires urgent reform. Our challenge to that report appears close to a successful conclusion and we look forward to saying more shortly.”

Ofsted declined to comment.

Make UK, formerly known as the Engineering Employers’ Federation, is an influential organisation that represents manufacturers across the country. It is chaired by Lord Hutton of Furness and was name-checked twice in last week’s autumn statement speech by chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

The company trains around 1,200 engineering and manufacturing apprentices at any one time. Its last published Ofsted inspection result was a ‘good’ in 2016.

Ofsted went back into the provider in January this year and dealt ‘inadequate’ ratings across the board a month later. The provider was accused of delaying student progress due to a lack of qualified staff, poorly run courses such as failing to provide relevant materials for welding students, and failing to offer a programme that was tailored to students’ existing abilities.

The most significant allegation made by the inspection team was around safeguarding, namely that there was “misogynistic behaviour”. Make UK refuted this in the strongest possible terms and said the highly damaging claim was “unsupported by any evidence”.

A judgment to this effect would have likely led to the Education and Skills Funding Agency terminating Make UK’s contract to deliver apprenticeship training.

The company quickly launched legal action and was successful in securing a judicial review that prevented Ofsted from publishing the report, having argued that Ofsted’s criticisms were irrational, unevidenced, and based on insufficient sample sizes.

Make UK was also granted an anonymity order whereby its identity could not initially be revealed during the proceedings.

While the company geared up for a showdown in the High Court, Ofsted conducted a follow-up mandatory monitoring visit in August and identified positive provision.

The watchdog then decided, off its own back, to conduct a full reinspection in October ahead of the court hearing with a completely different inspection team to the January visit.

FE Week understands new but yet undisclosed evidence came to light around this period that made it clear to the inspectorate it would not win the case in court. The reinspection resulted in an overall ‘good’ grade and none of the issues identified in the January inspection were found.

The report is expected to be published in December.

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4 Comments

  1. Dave Spart

    Who inspects the inspectors? These cases have related to private providers, but the simple fact is that no public sector body could afford – or would be allowed – to spend half a million pounds challenging a flawed judgement through the courts. But how many might have just cause to do so?

  2. The issue is that since Ofsted now cover all inspections they haven’t equipped themselves with inspectors who have worked within private training providers. They will not employ anyone unless they’re from an FE background ie schools colleges and universities. Therefore they are inspecting training providers with the view that they have the same resources and funding the schools, colleges and universities have.
    Learners tend to get a much more personalised experience with an ITP and tutors get to know their learners. However, there is no ‘level playing field’ and that goes for Ofsted inspections as well as ESFA and DfE.