Training firm rated ‘inadequate’ kept contract despite sexual harassment reports

The provider has now "established a culture of safeguarding", Ofsted said.

The provider has now "established a culture of safeguarding", Ofsted said.

ofsted

A training provider previously slammed for failing to oversee a subcontractor after reports of sexual harassment has avoided contract termination despite an ‘inadequate’ inspection.

In what is a rare exception to the rules, the Education and Skills Funding Agency has also elected not to suspend the firm from starting new apprenticeships at the time inspectors found “ineffective” safeguarding.

Ofsted handed Avant Partnership Limited an ‘inadequate’ rating in October after it found the provider had “limited oversight” of safeguarding at a subcontractor after female construction apprentices reported experiencing harassment whilst studying.

Staff at the subcontractor, Orchard Training and Education Limited, had also “not received training on protecting learners and apprentices from sexual abuse and harassment”, inspectors said.

Under the ESFA’s funding rules, an ‘inadequate’ judgement from Ofsted usually results in a suspension from the register of apprenticeship training providers and contract termination.

Suspension exemption

But Steve Roe, Avant Partnership Limited’s chief executive, told FE Week that his training provider had “retained our contract and were able to continue recruiting apprentices” following the report in October.

Avant remains on the government’s register of apprenticeship training providers.

Ofsted inspection data shows that there are 11 independent training providers, including Avant Partnership Limited, with ‘inadequate’ overall judgements and ‘ineffective’ safeguarding.

Each of those providers has received some form of sanction, either a suspension in new apprenticeship starts or removal from the register, except for Avant.

Why Avant has received this special treatment is unclear.

‘Reasonable progress’

In a new monitoring visit report published yesterday, inspectors found Avant and its subcontractor, Orchard, had “successfully implemented a wide range of improvements to ensure that the arrangements for safeguarding are now effective”.

Avant has appointed a safeguarding team to work across both sites, which uses “consistent processes” for reporting and dealing with safeguarding concerns, Ofsted’s report adds.

“Leaders have established a culture of safeguarding, which is woven through all parts of the two organisations. They have introduced a mantra of “if in doubt, speak out”, and tutors and staff are more willing to report concerns, which are then dealt with appropriately by the safeguarding team.”

Roe pointed out that, in October, Avant was rated good in every area apart from leadership and management, which got an ‘inadequate’ rating due to the safeguarding concerns and caused the training provider to get ‘inadequate’ for overall effectiveness.

“Ofsted were able to focus their monitoring visit in April 2023 on the improvements we had made to our safeguarding arrangements, which resulted in the positive report published this week.”

He said Avant had “reviewed our safeguarding arrangements and invested in further resources” following the earlier report, which involved recruiting a full-time member of staff as a designated safeguarding lead, which oversees safeguarding across both Avant and Orchard’s work and reports directly to him.

Avant has also employed a new head of compliance and quality who, along with other staff, visits the subcontractor “frequently”, the Ofsted report said.

“They carry out lesson visits and quality reviews [at the subcontractor], providing helpful feedback which leads to targeted professional development. They work with subcontractor staff to provide support and challenge, which subcontractor staff welcome in their aim to continue to improve the quality of their provision.”

Recently, staff at Avant trained employees at Orchard in behaviour management and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder awareness. Ofsted concluded that Avant has made “reasonable progress”.

Orchard, which does not appear to have subcontracts with any other providers, had contracts with Avant worth £859,115 by the end of August 2022, according to the latest government data.

The DfE declined to comment, saying it does not comment on individual provider cases. FE Week approached Orchard for comment.

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2 Comments

  1. Tony Allen

    Yet another example of inconsistent, and sometimes incomprehensible decisions made by the ESFA.
    On what basis do you allow allegations of sexual harrasment, surely one of the most serious of issues, to continue….even if in the short-term?
    It appears that you can lose your contract for historical poor financial performance, but not for sexual harrasment. Totally unjustifiable.

  2. Steve

    ESFA sets another example for Red Tape and discrimination. Why are contracts of other providers suspended based on Ofsted’s inconsistent reports and senseless judgements, when some privileged providers are given opportunity to fix things?