Retail apprenticeships provider ‘disappointed’ after Ofsted grade 4

Inspectors critiqued Northern Training Academy’s ‘poor’ training to big-name retailers

Inspectors critiqued Northern Training Academy’s ‘poor’ training to big-name retailers

An apprenticeship provider that delivers training to high-street retailers such as Peacocks and Dunelm has been hit with an ‘inadequate’ rating following its first full Ofsted inspection.

Northern Training Academy (NTA), based in Bolton, was given a grade four after inspectors found “poor” quality of training being delivered to most apprentices and learners.

The company was inspected in mid-May and had 375 apprentices and 14 adult trainees. It delivers 25 different apprenticeship standards from levels 2 to 6, mostly in retail but also in travel and warehousing.

While leaders and managers were praised for having a “clear rationale” to provide training that meets the post-pandemic skills shortages of local and national employers, inspectors found big concerns with oversight of the training.

Today’s report said too many apprentices are either “behind in their learning or have not achieved their apprenticeships on time”, adding that around a third are “significantly behind in their progress towards achieving their functional skills English and mathematics”.

Leaders were also unaware that apprentices on the level 6 assistant buyer and merchandiser apprenticeship were still in-learning during the inspection.

Ofsted also slammed the quality of NTA’s retail traineeship curriculum. Inspectors found that leaders have halved the time taken to teach trainees since its early monitoring visit in 2021.

The government scrapped traineeships as a stand-alone skills training programme earlier this year amid years of low starts, despite pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into the scheme during the pandemic. Traineeships can still be offered, but they’ve been integrated into adult education budget delivery.

Ofsted said NTA’s traineeship curriculum is “unambitious and does not meet the needs of the trainees”, adding that the retail traineeship does not include any retail-specific topics to help trainees to improve their knowledge of the sector.

Inspectors did however praise NTA’s provision for apprentices on the level 3 travel consultant apprenticeship, who receive an “ambitious curriculum that prepares them well for working in the travel industry”.

Jo Roche, managing director of NTA, said: “While we are disappointed with our grading, we are pleased that the Ofsted report recognises the positive impact of our travel apprenticeship provision.”

She added: “We take pride in our learners and their progress, especially amidst the ongoing challenges in the retail sector following the Covid-19 pandemic. We are committed to addressing these areas and have already taken steps to improve the training and support provided to our learning and development coaches.”

Independent training providers typically have their funding contracts terminated by the Education and Skills Funding Agency following ‘inadequate’ Ofsted judgments.

A spokesperson for NTA told FE Week the ESFA has not been in touch about contract termination “at this point in time”.

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