Trouble brewing at NCG as Ofsted inspectors stay an extra day


Ofsted has taken a highly unusual decision to extend its inspection of NCG, suggesting that not all is well at the nation’s largest college group.

Two teams of inspectors were sent in last Monday owing to achievement rate concerns, and they had been due to wrap up their investigations by the end of last week.

However, inspectors are controversially going back in for one last day today.

It is understood that the visit has not gone well, and that NCG’s current grade two is in danger of being downgraded. Its apprenticeship provision is understood to be of most concern.

This is the largest and most complex FE inspection Ofsted has had to undertake

The group, which is currently consulting on significant redundancies, will be desperate to avoid a disastrous ‘inadequate’ rating in this area, which would see it booted off of the government’s register of apprenticeship training providers and banned from offering the courses.

Intraining, NCG’s troubled private training provider arm, also had a visit from Ofsted last week. This inspection ended on schedule and it is understood to have resulted in a likely grade three for apprenticeships.

If the worst happens and NCG is taken off of RoATP, it will be down to the Department for Education to decide whether to stop the group from using Intraining as the sole provider of the group’s apprenticeship provision, as happened similarly at Learndirect Ltd.

Just before this body, the largest overall FE provider in the country, received a grade four of its own last year, it set up a separate company – Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd – to deliver apprenticeships regardless of whether Learndirect Ltd could or not.

Last week’s visits to NCG and Intraining were both full inspections, which suggests Ofsted’s alarm bells are ringing.

In more usual times, it would only be expected to carry out a short inspection, especially if there were no concerns.

The group was rated ‘good’ in September 2016, following a five-month standoff during which it successfully overturned a lower grade. Intraining was also given a grade two that June.

However, overall achievement rates at NCG are well below the national average.In 2016/17, the combined overall apprenticeship achievement rate for NCG’s colleges was just 55.6 per cent, while Intraining’s was 58 per cent.

Both are around 10 points lower than the national average of 67.7 per cent, and lower than the minimum threshold of 62 per cent, according to the latest government data.

And for the all-important 16-to-18 study programmes, NCG was 4.4 points below the national average of 81.5 per cent.

It is understood that Ofsted wanted to reinspect NCG last year, but was unable to analyse the group’s achievement rates because “data glitches” absented it from the 2015/16 tables.

“This is the largest and most complex FE inspection Ofsted has had to undertake, involving six colleges and a training organisation,” said an NCG spokesperson.

“Given the volume of information, it’s not surprising it has taken longer than a standard inspection and a request from Ofsted to extend by one day was agreed amicably.”

She said the group would not “pre-empt” the results of an inspection report “by commenting on what it might say”.

At the same time as dealing with these inspections, NCG is cutting staff numbers by up to a fifth at Intraining and its other private provider Rathbone Training in an effort to save £3 million, as revealed by FE Week two weeks ago.

The group was further shaken last month when staff at Lewisham Southwark College, a long-distance merger partner, voted to strike over pay.

Staff are due to walk out tomorrow and Wednesday.

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  1. I cannot see how a grade 2 could ever be justified given the outcomes last year – a grade 4 could even be on the cards depending on where the problems lie and the volumes involved. The provisional grades cannot be encouraging as the CEO has instructed that even staff should be be informed until the report is about to be published in 5-6 weeks – let’s just hope months don’t pass by again with drawn out appeals and resort to ‘data glitches’. It’s time for some real ‘openness, transparency and honesty’ from NCG. These quality and finance difficulties have rightly been highlighted at Lewisham Southwark College – who have yet to see any delivery of pre-merger promises of investment in front-line FE provision, much needed in the the boroughs – flogging more MBAs in London is like taking coals to Newcastle.

  2. A Taxpayer

    Let’s hope Ofsted are not bullied into submission, as it is strongly suspected happened at their last two inspections. Ofsted are meant to inspect without fear or favour and they have recently demonstrated their stamina and robustness with the LearnDirect inspection. We’ve all seen the appalling achievement rates here and I agree with Matt’s comment that it is difficult to see how a grade 2 could be justified – the learner outcomes look like grade 4 to me. I feel Ofsted is regaining its respect under the current leadership so let’s hope their judgements are credible otherwise I fear it will dent confidence on a national scale.