A training provider has been slated by Ofsted for serious failure to oversee a subcontractor after female construction apprentices reported experiencing harassment whilst studying.
Ofsted conducted a monitoring visit of Avant Partnership Limited in August after safeguarding concerns were raised about its only subcontractor, Orchard Training and Education Limited.
Inspectors dealt Avant the lowest possible judgement – ‘insufficient progress’ – in a report published today, which opens the prime provider up to possible government intervention which could be severe as removal from the apprenticeship training market.
Ofsted found that Avant has “limited oversight of the safeguarding arrangements” at Orchard, most concerningly that they have “not received training on protecting learners and apprentices from sexual abuse and harassment”.
The watchdog reported that female learners and apprentices in the construction curriculum area at Orchard are “in the minority”, and a small number of them “report that they have experienced harassment while studying there”.
Ofsted has placed a bigger focus on investigating sexual misconduct at schools, colleges and training providers following the Everyone’s Invited revelations of widespread sexual abuse in education settings, which came to prominence in spring 2020.
Since full inspections returned in September 2021, inspectors have been reviewing providers’ sexual abuse records and looking at how providers handle related incidents. Learners are also now spoken with in single-sex groups during inspections.
Changes made to the inspection handbook 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”.
Staff at Avant and Orchard were flagged by Ofsted for failing to take necessary steps to keep learners and apprentices safe.
The watchdog also revealed that hardly any students wear any personal protective equipment or safety glasses in workshops, despite several accidents already happening involving mortar going into apprentice’s eyes. The report also drew on the low level of hygiene in workshops and toilets.
Although much of the report highlights managerial and leadership shortfalls, the visit did find that learners and apprentices said they felt safe in surveys carried out by the providers, and told Ofsted they know how to report safeguarding concerns.
Latest government data shows that Orchard had subcontracts with Avant worth £662,000 as at January 2022. Orchard doesn’t appear to hold a subcontract with any other prime training providers.
According to the Education and Skills Funding Agency, if Ofsted has raised concerns about safeguarding in a monitoring visit report, the agency reserves the right to remove an organisation from the register and stop all apprenticeship delivery.
Both Avant and Orchard were still listed on the ESFA’s register of apprenticeship training providers with no suspension on starts at the time of going to press.
Orchard and Avant did not respond to requests for comment.