A university has made one of its deans the chief executive of its apprenticeship training provider following an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating over safeguarding concerns, staffing disruption and poor off-the-job training.
Alliance Learning opened as a training provider 40 years ago and joined the University of Bolton group in 2020. Today it was judged ‘requires improvement’ in all areas except leadership and management, where Ofsted gave it the lowest ‘inadequate’ rating and resulted in an overall grade four.
The provider, inspected in February, had previously been rated ‘good’ but inspectors found standards had declined since its last short inspection in May 2017.
Between the inspection in February and the publication of the report, Alliance appointed Dr Gill Waugh as its new chief executive, dean of the university’s faculty of professional studies and head of the school of education and psychology.
Additionally, Bolton College’s principal Bill Webster and executive director for HR and estates, Jane Marsh, have both joined Alliance’s board.
The provider said it expects to enter discussions with the Education and Skills Funding Agency, but would not be drawn on whether its funding contract would be terminated as a result of the Ofsted judgement – which would be in line with usual ESFA rules.
Alliance Learning had over 350 apprentices on programme at the time of Ofsted’s visit. It has started 120 apprentices to date this year in engineering, manufacturing technologies, building and construction, administration and business management. It’s overall achievement rate for its 150 leavers in 2021/22 was 73.5 per cent, well above the national average of 53.4 per cent.
But Ofsted said that engineering learners had suffered “significant disruption” to their learning as a result of numerous staff changes and infrequent progress reviews. New staff have been recruited but had not yet resulted in all apprentices receiving the same high-quality training, the report said.
It continued that “leaders do not ensure staff follow correct procedures” when apprentices raise safeguarding concerns, resulting in those not being recorded or followed-up. Inspectors said that leaders and managers “cannot assure themselves that all apprentices are safe” and dubbed recording and monitoring of safeguarding referrals as “systemically weak”.
The report said that quality improvement processes were not yet effective, and the provider hadn’t identified quality weaknesses in its own self-assessment.
Furthermore, on and off-the-job training was not co-ordinated effectively and development of English and maths skills was deemed “not effective for all apprentices”.
Additional activities beyond the main vocational curriculum were not always provided, while learners were not given information to make well-informed decisions on career options, according to the report.
Prior knowledge, skills and behaviours were also not always identified.
Inspectors however did praise the positive attitudes and punctual attendance of learners, as well as the support from tutors, and Alliance’s work in aligning apprenticeships with priority skills needed in the Greater Manchester region.
Dr Gill Waugh, the new chief executive, said that all staff have now been trained in safeguarding and its policies have been updated, including new safeguarding leads being appointed.
“We acknowledge the concerns raised by Ofsted in our recent inspection. We took immediate and decisive action to introduce a robust action plan which addresses every point raised by the inspectors,” Waugh said.
“With new leadership and procedures in place, I am confident that our detailed action plan will achieve the rapid and effective change necessary to ensure an environment where all our staff and learners at Alliance Learning can develop and prosper.”