A training provider faces being kicked out of the apprenticeships market after Ofsted found off-the-job training rules were being broken.
ARC Academy UK Limited, which trains almost 100 apprentices at levels 2 and 3 in the rail engineering and construction sectors, received an ‘inadequate’ rating from the inspectorate this week.
The watchdog’s report said the provider does not have sufficient assessors to cater for the number of apprentices it has enrolled, finding that learners “rarely” complete their apprenticeships on time or are significantly past their planned end dates.
Ofsted also found that in some cases, apprentices are forced to complete their 20 per cent off-the-job training studies in their own time, which is contrary to the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s funding rules.
Any training provider rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted is usually removed from the government’s register of apprenticeship training providers.
Paul Napier, operations director at ARC Group UK, complained that the watchdog did not sufficiently consider the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic when judging his provider. He is awaiting a response from the ESFA about ARC’s future in delivering apprenticeships before deciding whether to challenge Ofsted formally.
“Of the 100 apprentices on programme, all were recruited since Covid with employers we have worked with for several years and recognise the recent inconsistencies with tutors due to recruitment difficulties as a consequence of staff leaving during the pandemic,” Napier said.
“These difficulties in recruitment have been seen in a number of sectors, yet we know that our employers support us as we continue working with them to complete their current apprentices.”
Ofsted’s report said ARC’s leaders have been too slow to implement their plans to increase the number of assessors. As a result, “most apprentices do not receive regular visits or feedback on their progress from assessors, and too many planned visits are cancelled”.
Additionally, the inspectorate claimed there were no arrangements in place to help apprentices to catch up if they are lagging behind.
Trainers at ARC were praised for having a “wealth of knowledge and experience of national construction and engineering sectors”.
However, they “do not have sufficient expertise in teaching, despite undertaking recent professional development and gaining teaching qualifications,” Ofsted said.
“Learning materials they use show outdated work practices in areas such as track ballast compaction and give incorrect guidance on the wearing of protective equipment when working on the rail network.”
Governance was also criticised. The report said: “Senior leaders currently take responsibility for governance. They have not yet implemented their plans to introduce suitable external scrutiny of their actions.
“As a result, they lack appropriate support and challenge to help them identify underperformance or hold them to account for the improvements ARC requires.”
Napier said: “Our recent recruitment issues have led to us making slow progress on our Covid recovery plan, but as a niche provider we are awaiting a response from the ESFA while we consider challenging the Ofsted grade.”