Suffolk provider successfully contests Ofsted grade 4

A private training provider has successfully overturned an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted judgement after a nine-month battle which even saw inspectors forced to go back and reconsider the grade.

WS Training Ltd, a provider based in Suffolk with nearly 1,000 learners, was rated at grade two in 2013 but was reinspected in January this year.

FE Week understands the provider had been due to receive an overall grade four in a report which singled out safeguarding concerns.

WS Training feared it would go out of business as an ‘inadequate’ rating typically means the government will terminate funding contracts.

Directors engaged lawyers to challenge the outcome and after an initial investigation, the watchdog deemed the original inspection “incomplete”, and sent inspectors back in to gather more evidence seven months later.

After this mini reinspection, which took place over two days in August, WS Training was given a grade three across the board in a report published on September 28 – nearly 250 days after the first inspection.

The wait was eight times longer than the average 30 days between an inspection and a published report.

“While we aim to get our inspection reports out as quickly as possible, it is important that the reports are an accurate reflection of the provision,” an Ofsted spokesperson told FE Week.

“We don’t often have to gather additional evidence after an inspection, but will do so where we feel it is necessary to secure our judgement. Sometimes this leads to an unavoidable delay.”

In the last two academic years, five inspections of FE providers, including that of WS Training, have been deemed incomplete as a result of Ofsted’s quality-assurance process.

In all cases the inspectorate had to return to the provider to gather more evidence “in order to ensure that the inspection judgements were secure”.

FE Week understands the nature of the complaint from WS Training centred on alleged incompetence of inspectors. However, Ofsted told FE Week it had “no concerns about the conduct of any of our inspectors on this inspection”.

The decision comes at an embarrassing time for the watchdog given its recent judicial review with Learndirect.

Like WS Training, the nation’s largest FE provider accused the inspectorate of not doing its job thoroughly enough to make an adequate judgment.

During a court hearing in July, Learndirect claimed that inspectors had a “predetermined” negative view of its apprenticeship provision, and that the inspection was inadequately detailed considering its size.

But these allegations were thrown out by the judge and Ofsted was vindicated.

Jane Wood, WS Training’s chief executive, told FE Week it would be “inappropriate” for her to comment on her firm’s case against the inspectorate.

WS Training’s combined government contracts are worth more than £2.5 million, according to the ESFA’s latest funding allocations.

Ofsted’s final report on the provider said “too few” tutors plan teaching, learning and assessment “well enough to help learners to make good progress from their starting points”.

Tutors “do not always have high enough expectations” of what learners can achieve, and “too few challenge them beyond the minimum requirements of their qualifications”.

Inspectors added that leaders do not take “sufficient account” of the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in self-assessment or improvement planning, while not all employers are “routinely involved in planning apprentices’ learning”.

Leaders do however work “effectively” with partners to “meet the needs of learners”, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with complex high needs.

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  1. Dave Spart

    I would not normally be one to leap to Ofsted’s defence, but your description of this as “an embarrassing time for the watchdog” seems unfair. As you acknowledge, their conduct and judgement in relation to the learndirect inspection have been entirely vindicated in court. The people who should be embarrassed by that affair are learndirect’s owners and senior managers, who cast aspersions on Ofsted for their own purposes, and the government who granted learndirect special pleading.