School catering firm furloughed tutors despite going on apprentice hiring spree

A major school catering supplier has been slated by Ofsted for hiring apprentices during the pandemic only to place their tutors on furlough.

Inspectors found that, as a result, almost all apprentices at Aspens Services Limited in Worcester are asked to complete assessments before any learning takes place.

Some apprentices had to wait for four months before receiving contact from a tutor. Inspectors also warned there are no plans in place for how apprentices will be supported to catch up.

The judgment came after a new provider monitoring visit in March. The report was published this week.

Two of the three themes that were judged returned ‘insufficient progress’ scores. As a result, the provider faces a suspension on starts until a follow-up Ofsted visit returns improved judgments, in line with government policy.

Aspens Services Limited provides catering services in 700 schools across the country and began delivering its apprenticeships in early 2020, just before Covid-19 hit.

Fifty-two apprentices were hired last year and began standards-based apprenticeships such as chef, team leader and customer service.

Ofsted praised senior leaders for having a “clear rationale” for the apprenticeships they deliver. They have “designed the programme of apprenticeships to ‘upskill’ their workforce with these skills as the focus”.

But leaders have not ensured that there is a clear delivery plan and resources in place to support apprentices, inspectors found.

The report said: “Almost all of the current apprentices on programme have been recruited during the pandemic. However, many of those responsible for teaching apprentices have been furloughed.

“There is no clear plan in place for how apprentices are taught, assessed and supported to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need. As a result, apprentices are making slow progress.

“There are no plans in place for how apprentices will be supported to catch up.”

Ofsted also pulled the provider up for a lack of “focus” on English and maths, as well as there being “no clear plan for how on- and off-the-job training link together”.

In addition, the watchdog reported that the line managers of apprentices are not clear on what apprentices are moving on to next, which has led to almost all apprentices making slow progress.

During their visit, inspectors found that almost all apprentices have “been set assessment tasks to show what they have learned from the course before any teaching has taken place”.

Tutors’ reviews with apprentices “lack focus” and “do not set clear targets for what apprentices need to do next”.

Aspens Services Limited did not respond to requests for comment.

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