Training firm set to close after ‘grossly unfair’ Ofsted inspection

Derby Skillbuild CEO slams watchdog’s critique as ‘pure fiction’

Derby Skillbuild CEO slams watchdog’s critique as ‘pure fiction’

The boss of a 16-year-old independent training provider for vulnerable 14-19-year-olds has said he has no choice but to close the business due to a contract termination following a contested ‘inadequate’ Ofsted outcome.

Derby Skillbuild, an ITP providing vocational training and English and maths to vulnerable learners, lodged numerous complaints with the watchdog over the way its October inspection was conducted.

The provider was downgraded from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’ in a report published this morning.

This is despite, the provider claims, an Ofsted internal review following several complaints about the inspection process.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) told the provider this morning that it intends to terminate its contract.

Tim Kerry, chief executive of Derby Skillbuild, told FE Week he anticipates the organisation will have to shut down due to costly legal proceedings and the ESFA withdrawing funding.

“We’ve made several complaints about it following the Ofsted process. It was grossly unfair,” he said.

Kerry said the provider “doesn’t have any choice” but to progress to a judicial review, depending on the proceedings the ESFA intend to take.

“At the end of the day, people will suffer because we will close. I can’t see any other outcome. Unless there’s an epiphany moment within Ofsted, then nothing will change and we will close,” Kerry said.

The provider, established in 2007, was inspected in October and had 70 full-time learners studying level 1 to 3 courses mostly in construction and health and social care. Around half of the learners were aged under 16.

Inspectors have ‘no experience’

Derby Skillbuild was downgraded from ‘good’ at its last inspection in 2017 to ‘inadequate’ overall. It was rated ‘inadequate’ across all categories apart from personal development, where it was judged ‘requires improvement’.

Kerry told FE Week that he complained that the inspectors had no experience in the subject content that it taught, such as construction, and its land-based courses.

Kerry’s second complaint was that inspectors did not consider what they were contracted to deliver by the ESFA.

“You cannot inspect an independent learning provider without having regard to their contract, which is exactly what it is that we’re supposed to provide in return for being paid,” he said.

“I’m a bit surprised that they’ve decided to publish the report prior to the internal review that they’re going through on the basis of our request,” he added.

Ofsted’s published complaints procedure says it will withhold publication of contested inspection reports if a formal complaint is lodged within its deadlines.

In the report, inspectors said that learners do not benefit from a “sufficiently ambitious curriculum” and have “poor attitudes” to learning.

“When they talk about the curriculum, we don’t have a curriculum, we have a course that we deliver to a specification. That’s what’s in our contract,” Kerry said. “The entire organisation of Ofsted does not make any provision for the difference between an independent learning provider and a school.”

“If any normal reasonable person came down here and looked at the type of English ability, maths ability that these kids come to us with, they would be astonished,” Kerry added. “I mean, it’s five-to-six-year-old ability.”

Around 80 per cent of learners have been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, or have an education, health and care plan.

Ofsted classroom comments ‘pure fiction’

Ofsted praised the providers’ oversight of learners with special educational needs but said that teachers are not consistent with using information in learners’ support plans across all courses.

“It’s not easy, especially with the behaviours because they are from impoverished areas and are not used to any kind of rules or regulations. That’s why they’re not at school,” Kerry explained.

The watchdog also criticised the provider’s lack of sufficient careers education and advice, which Kerry also took issue with, as Derby Skillbuild schedules this for its learners later in the academic year.

“The problem that I have with that is that although we do it, we don’t do it at the beginning of the term,” he added. “We do it once we’ve got the preparation for the January exams out of the way.”

The report also found that staff do not have the relevant training to address behavioural issues with learners, and not enough time in lessons is spent on teaching.

Inspectors praised leaders’ knowledge of students’ backgrounds and the challenges they face, but criticised them for not placing high enough expectations on learners.

“Too often, for example, they accept learners’ lack of motivation as a reason to not complete assignments. As a result, too few learners pass their vocational courses,” the report said.

Ofsted also said that the provider’s learning environment was “poor” and that classrooms were “unkempt and uninspiring”.

In the construction course, inspectors found insufficient numbers of workbenches for group sizes, and “uneven flooring”, making practical work difficult.

Kerry said he didn’t “acknowledge it at all”. “It’s pure fiction,” he said.

He explained that in construction, this year’s intake was larger than normal, so it built an external shelter area with a concrete floor for students to conduct brickwork.

“It’s a very strange thing to pick up on,” he said.

Ofsted declined to comment.

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