A construction training provider has pulled the plug on apprenticeships ahead of a damning inspection report which said its apprentices were “at risk of harm”.
SB Skills Solutions, which offered level 2 construction apprenticeships, was hit with an ‘inadequate’ report published today, following an inspection back in June.
Training providers typically have their contracts terminated by the Education and Skills Funding Agency following an ‘inadequate’ inspection outcome. But leaders at SB Skills Solutions said it had already begun to exit the apprenticeships market before the inspection took place, citing significant staff shortages and rising costs.
Inspectors slammed the provider for its “disregard for the training, development and well-being of their apprentices” after it gave little notice before ending its apprenticeship provision.
SB Skills Solutions, which is based in Skelmersdale in Lancashire, had 69 apprentices spread across level two standards in groundwork, plant operations, highways maintenance and bricklaying.
It also had fewer than five learners on a plant skills bootcamp at the time of the inspection – which it will continue to offer after Ofsted gave its adult learning programmes a ‘good’ rating.
But it scored ‘inadequate’ in the quality of education, leadership and management, and apprenticeships, with ‘requires improvement’ grades for behaviour and attitudes, and personal development. That gave it an ‘inadequate’ rating overall.
‘Backed into a corner’
Inspectors said the quality of the apprenticeship provision was “poor” and that “too many apprentices lack the motivation and enthusiasm to continue their learning due to a high turnover of staff”.
They also flagged that some tutors had “insufficient knowledge” of their subject areas, meaning “too many” apprentices leave their studies before completion.
Ofsted said the provider told apprentices and employers it was stopping apprenticeships on the day it was alerted to the Ofsted inspection, and that they had “received no prior notice”.
“Apprentices and their employers told inspectors that they were disappointed and frustrated because leaders had taken the decision to cease apprenticeship training,” the report said.
But the provider’s operations director, Neil Beaumont, told FE Week it had no other option after most of its staff left without completing their notice periods just before the inspection.
“We were literally left with no delivery staff. What other option did we have when we had no staff left to deliver that provision? I was backed into a corner, it’s ridiculous.”
‘Ineffective’ safeguarding arrangements
Inspectors also flagged “ineffective” safeguarding arrangements at the provider, which they said failed to replace the safeguarding lead who left weeks before the inspection.
That left its apprentices, two-thirds of whom were under 18, “at risk of harm”.
But Beaumont said that was “far from” the truth.
“Learners weren’t at risk, there was a minimum number of days where we didn’t have the safeguarding lead,” he said. He added that the safeguarding lead for apprentices had had a mini-stroke and could not be replaced straight away.
Inspectors warned that “all learning materials” for apprenticeships were out of date, that the provider did not work with employers to sort out on and off-the-job training, and that most progress reviews were “significantly” overdue.
“Although managers recognise serious weaknesses in the quality of the apprenticeship provision, they do not implement sufficient and coordinated quality improvement actions to ensure that apprentices receive an acceptable quality of training,” the report adds.
They also said the “lack of a stable workforce” meant apprentices would often repeat the same lessons, and that tutors do not give enough guidance on how to improve work, or correct mistakes.
Beaumont, the operations director, said the provider “does take [the criticisms] very seriously”, and said the criticism “didn’t come to any surprise”.
But he pointed to significant recruitment problems over the last year and a half, and rising costs in apprenticeship delivery as reasons for their decision to halt apprenticeship provision. For instance, in the groundworks provision, he said costs “have gone through the roof” while the funding has remained the same.
Beaumont also reiterated the provider was “still committed” to delivering its boot camps, and that they “intend to grow” those courses. The skills boot camps received strong praise from Ofsted, which said learners leave their courses “well prepared” to work in the sectors they trained for.