The owner of one of the UK’s largest and “fastest growing” vocational training providers has also created his own awarding body.

Gerard Syddall is a company director and 95 per cent shareholder of Elmfield Training Ltd.

As reported by FE Week in June and more recently in the TES magazine, Elmfield Training took more than £12 million in pre-tax profits in the financial year ending September 2010, on a turnover of £33.8 million, resulting in a profit margin of roughly 36 per cent.

The company then used the profits to pay a £3 million dividend to its shareholders, of which Mr Syddall was the main recipient.

For this academic year, Elmfield Training has been allocated £37 million from the Skills Funding Agency to deliver apprenticeships to employers including Morrisons, Vodafone and British Home Stores.

However, FE Week can also reveal that in May 2009, Mr Syddall set-up his own awarding body, Skills First Awards Ltd, to certificate the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) qualifications and apprenticeship frameworks of his other company, Elmfield Training.

Myra Wall, managing director of Skills First Awards, said: “Thanks to our unique positioning, structure and in-depth sector understanding, we are able to work with training providers and employers to deliver relevant, fit-for-purpose work-based qualifications.

“Although setting up as an awarding body was very demanding due to the rigour of the recognition process in place, we are extremely proud of the growth we have achieved to date and our customer base and qualifications portfolio is rapidly building.”

Despite referring  to multiple “training providers” and “employers”, a spokesperson from Skills First Awards was unable to confirm they work with anyone other than Elmfield Training.

When asked about clientele, FE Week was referred to a testimonials page which displays a number of employers handled by Elmfield Training.

Elmfield Training refused to comment on Mr Syddall’s relationship with the awarding body at the time of going to print.

The governing body of Skills First Awards – like all awarding bodies – has until May 18 to confirm they are working in compliance with the General Conditions of Recognition developed by Ofqual.

When asked about the relationship between Elmfield Training and Skills First Awards,  a spokesperson for Ofqual said: “The conditions set out the requirements for managing any potential conflicts of interest in the delivery of regulated qualifications. Any breaches of the conditions of recognition could lead to regulatory action taken against the awarding organisation.”

The spokesperson added: “We have met with the governing body to discuss the transition to the new regulatory arrangements.”

Skills First Awards was allowed to offer regulated qualifications on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in July 2009.

They were later recognised for the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) in December 2009 and Key Skills in February 2011, under the Statutory Regulations 2004 and QCF Regulatory Arrangements 2008.

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  1. Mr Annoyed

    Legally nothing wrong with being an awarding body – under this new wonderful system anyhow. But this is disgusting. Elmfield should be closed down. This is just an extension of the money printing machine – make money through ‘training’ and assessment (of sorts at least!); then print your money via certification. WOW Poacher and game keeper…and mostly at the expense of the tax payer. Just plain and simple it’s wrong.

    • Mrs V Annoyed

      Yeah lets close down every company where the directors do something which seems underhand. All the people who work for those companies and invest countless hours in ensuring they deliver the best possible training deserve to become unemployed. How dare they try to help out of work teenagers gain skills and employment. Hanging is to good for them. You have it Mr Annoyed close the company down, hang the directors and flog the staff.

  2. I have to be honest and I struggle to see why we should be either surprised or indeed concerned. Pearson, a multinational company with lots of education interests, own Edexcel and now EDI. There are lots of very close links between Publishers and Awarding Organisations and we often see revision books being written by chief examiners. Why are these examples so different from Elmfield/Skillsfirst, they are after all, just examples of of vertical integration of services within the sector.
    So I have no problem at all with ownership, however I do have a problem if Elmfield are using Skillsfirst to develop short apprenticeship programmes that have limited rigour that devalue the whole nature of Apprenticeships. That’s where the investigation should be.

  3. Scott Upton

    I thought I’d seen it all. But this is the best yet. Perhaps they’ll set up the replacement to the NAS / SFA as well. Provider / Awarding Body / Regulator = Full House.
    Anyway must dash, I’m just off to set up my own Treasury to get me over the recession.
    Scott Upton, Sandwell College.

  4. Scott Upton

    I thought I’d seen it all. But this is the best yet. Perhaps they’ll set up the replacement to the NAS / SFA as well. Provider / Awarding Body / Regulator = Full House.
    Anyway must dash, I’m just off to set up my own Treasury to get me over the recession.
    Scott Upton, Sandwell College..

  5. Looks like its just common ownership to me, lots of entrepreneurs, Private Equity firms and Venture Capitalists invest in related businesses.

    Looking at the profit figures quoted, only 25% of the profit was actually distributed in dividends, which presumably means that several millions have been reinvested into things like Skillsfirst.

    The corporate governance of each business is no doubt different otherwise Ofqual would have said that there was a conflict of interest.

    Don’t Pearson have both Awarding Organisations and Training Providers under their ownership?

  6. Cromwell

    So Elmfield have been allocated £37million this year by SFA for apprenticeship delivery.

    I would like to know if this includes the value of funding Elmfield also draws down through subcontracting arrangements they have with providers on top of contracts they directly hold with SFA.

    Anybody know the answer?

  7. Is there any difference between this and what City & Guilds have done?

    The whole area of “work based learning” is one big racket that took off with Leitch, Train to Gain and the great “skills equals qualifications” myth. Rather than address this inexplicable redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to training providers the current’s government’s “set the people free” approach has simply made the situation worse.