A police force has been censured by Ofsted for the “poor” quality of its apprenticeship delivery and for not taking prior learning into account, following an early monitoring visit.

The Chief Constable of Northumbria (referred to as Northumbria Police in the report) began training its own apprentices in May last year and had 30 apprentices who handle emergency and non-emergency calls in the police’s communications centre at the time of the inspectorate’s visit.

The watchdog found the employer provider had made ‘insufficient progress’ in two areas of its provision, which covers the level 2 customer service practitioner standard and the level 3 emergency service contact handling standard.

“The quality of programmes has, until recently, been poor and apprentices have made slow progress”, inspectors wrote, owing to not enough staff resources being put in to deliver the programmes and because leaders did not plan them effectively.

Staff do not take into account their apprentices’ “considerable” experience in customer service and call handling when planning their learning – providers must take prior learning into account for each apprentice, according to ESFA funding rules.

Instead, all apprentices complete the same programme of learning, regardless of their starting points.

The majority of their learning is delivered during an intensive block of initial training and mentoring, which inspectors say apprentices are right to value highly.

But this meant “apprentices do not have enough ongoing study time throughout their programmes to complete their learning and prepare for their end-point assessments”, the report adds.

Furthermore, it was also found no formal arrangement existed between Northumbria Police and an external provider they use to deliver English and maths training to their apprentices.

As apprentices undertake this towards the end of the programmes, the watchdog reported they cannot benefit from developing those skills for the full duration of their training.

Colin Christie, head of people services at Northumbria Police, said he was “naturally disappointed” by aspects of the Ofsted report, but “it is important to recognise it only looked at two new internally delivered courses with a small number of apprentices”.

“The inspection does highlight we have been proactive in addressing a number of issues which we had already identified. This includes appointing additional resources to manage and coordinate the programmes.

“The report also praises the ‘well-qualified and highly experienced’ officers who deliver the courses and the ‘high level of welfare support’ provided to apprentices.”

“I want to make it clear that the findings in this report do not impact on our wider ability to recruit apprenticeships into the Force of which we are currently approaching 200. The majority of which are undertaking training for our highly-commended Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship which is co-delivered through Northumbria University.”

There are signs leaders have started to get a grip of provision: several months ago, they appointed new staff to manage the programmes and have ceased recruiting apprentices so staff can focus on supporting the existing ones, “most of whom are already overdue in completing their programmes”.

Although it had voluntarily stopped recruiting, Northumbria Police said it has now been suspended from recruiting new apprentices for these standards by the ESFA, in line with the agency’s rules.

Leaders were also complimented by inspectors for implementing a curriculum which supports apprentices to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to carry out their specialist roles.

During the training, apprentices develop communication techniques like building rapport and showing empathy to callers.

They get to respond to simulated and then live calls under supervision, which helps develop their confidence and skills to work independently.

“Programmes contribute well to meeting the organisation’s workforce development needs,” inspectors recorded.

‘Reasonable progress’ was made in safeguarding, with its effectiveness being “central to the work of Northumbria Police”.

The force provides high level of welfare to its apprentices, which is particularly important as they deal with calls they can find stressful or even traumatic, Ofsted’s report said.

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