The boss of an awarding body that fell victim to a high-profile case of qualifications fraud is threatening to take Ofqual to court unless it repays a £115,000 fine.
Industry Qualifications (IQ) Ltd’s board dropped an appeal following an investigation from the qualifications regulator in 2019 due to spiralling legal costs that led to the firm paying the six-figure sum.
But the decision was made without the blessing of IQ’s owner, Raymond Clarke, who suffered two strokes in 2017 because, he claims, of the stress of Ofqual’s pursuit. This left him paralysed and unable to work.
Clarke has now reignited the case after recovering to a stage where he feels fit enough to challenge the regulator again. He claims Ofqual’s investigation was carried out despite conflict of interest concerns and alleges there was “manufactured evidence” against his firm.
He also claims to have a stronger case now because IQ was censured for offering free appeals to students caught up in the scandal – an approach that Ofqual adopted during the recent A-level fiasco.
Clarke wrote to the regulator last month demanding repayment of the £115,000 by March 30, and warns that he will also set out a case for damages to his health and the fact that IQ went bust as a result of Ofqual’s investigation.
A spokesperson for Ofqual refused to comment on Clarke’s claims but told FE Week IQ was fined for breaching the regulator’s rules and that it took regulatory action to “protect learners”.
Case sparked by undercover sting operation
Ofqual’s inquiry into IQ began in March 2016, a year after one of the training provider’s it awarded – Ashley Commerce College, in Ilford – was subject to an undercover BBC investigation that alleged staff were prepared to sit exams for students training to work as security guards.
IQ revoked 251 level two and three door-supervision and CCTV surveillance qualifications it certificated in 2015 following the BBC’s exposé.
Ofqual’s report said that IQ had failed to “identify the potential for conflicts of interest to arise” or to manage any such conflicts when it approved the college to deliver its qualifications.
The head of the college was also an assessor and moderator for IQ qualifications and had a financial interest in the provider “such that it was in his interest for learners to pass assessments”, the report said.
The awarding organisation’s monitoring of the college was deemed “defective” as IQ had “failed to recognise” the proportion of learner work reviewed by its external verifier was “substantially less” than was required by IQ’s policy, the report added.
Ofqual accused of institutional corruption
Clarke, in his new letter to Ofqual, claims the regulator was “institutionally corrupt” in its pursuit of enforcement action against IQ.
Among a list of complaints, he alleges the “vengeful” regulator failed to manage conflicts of interest because the person responsible for leading the investigation had been the subject of a previous complaint by his awarding body.
He claims the investigation team also planned to use “false” allegations made by a whistleblower in the case, which showed IQ exam papers were being distributed online before they were sat by students. Clarke said Ofqual was going to use this as evidence of an organisation which “was not learning and is consistently failing”.
Clarke also takes issue with Ofqual’s annual report from 2017 which cited the enforcement action being taken against IQ prior to the conclusion of the case, which he says was “unfair and prejudicial”.
His main new complaint is that IQ was “heavily censured” by the enforcement team for offering free appeals to “manage any potential adverse effects” for students who had their certificates withdrawn following the BBC investigation.
Ofqual allegedly stated at the time that this breached the conditions of approval but then went on to adopt “an identical approach during the recent A-level fiasco, evidencing double standards and a lack of clarity in the conditions of approval”, Clarke said.
He told FE Week: “If Ofqual doesn’t repay the fine, I will go to the Civil Service Commission, and the parliamentary ombudsman. We’ll then look to court if we need to.”