Welsh online-only apprenticeship provider censured by Ofsted

A Wales-based provider that trains apprentices in England exclusively online has been rapped by Ofsted.

Cognitia Consulting, headquartered in south Wales, scored two ‘insufficient progress’ ratings in a new provider monitoring visit report published on Monday.

Since 2018, the independent provider has delivered the safety, health and environmental technician apprenticeship and is one of the “few providers in the country” to offer the level 3 standard.


Lack of employer contact ‘hinders apprentices’ progress’

Inspectors criticised the lack of communication between Cognitia, its 26 apprentices and employers which its website boasts have included Virgin Media, logistics company Menzies Aviation and local councils.

“With very few exceptions,” the report reads, “employers are not closely involved in managers’ planning and teaching of the apprenticeship. This hinders apprentices’ progress.

“One employer commented that he had had no contact with Cognitia staff since the apprentice started.”

Apprentices in their second year on programme have to contact their trainer once they need training, rather than receiving scheduled tuition. These learners were also not set targets or deadlines for completing their portfolio evidence, so “most are behind in submitting work and do not know when their end-point assessment will take place”.

Although Cognitia’s training has been done entirely online since before Covid-19, apprentices could not access online resources for two and a half months recently as the provider was switching online resource systems.

Training was further disrupted when a member of teaching staff was furloughed.

The provider is also currently without a functional skills training partner which has slowed apprentices’ progress, with half of the learners needing the assessment and qualifications in English, maths or IT to complete their apprenticeships.


‘High proportion’ of apprentices withdrew from their qualification

Ofsted has in the past expressed scepticism about online or remote apprenticeships provision, with chief inspector Amanda Spielman telling FE Week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference last month they are the “second-best option” to face-to-face training.

Even before the pandemic, the watchdog raised concerns about certain providers’ “weak” remote provision, with others facing criticism for “slow” implementation of quality assurance arrangements to improve the standard of their online training.

Cognitia’s Ofsted report also criticises the low quality of the provider’s training, to which its leaders admitted, telling inspectors: “The initial cohorts of apprentices experienced enrolment practices and training that did not meet the apprentices’ or employers’ needs and, as a consequence, a high proportion withdrew from their qualification.”

Despite fewer learners leaving later cohorts, the watchdog decided it “it is too early to tell if such a reduction is sustainable”.

Its curriculum was also “not being implemented logically or in ways that take full account of apprentices’ prior skills, knowledge and experience”.


Provider admits it ‘still needed to improve’

Cognitia did make ‘reasonable progress’ in terms of its safeguarding arrangements, with Ofsted finding apprentices feel safe and staff are clear about how to report issues to the designated safeguarding lead.

But under Education and Skills Funding Agency rules, an ‘insufficient progress’ rating usually means a provider will be suspended from taking on new apprenticeship starts.

Cognitia’s apprenticeship programme manager Tom Edwards said that following some internal changes, “we were already working to strengthen our offering prior to this visit.

“However, we accept the findings of the report and acknowledge that whilst we have made great strides as a learning provider, we still needed to improve some elements of our scheme delivery.”

He raised how it had been a “turbulent year for both trainers and training providers alike”, and that they have “learned much from working with Ofsted and from reflecting on our own internal operations”.

Cognitia now has new training staff and processes in place, Edwards said, and the inspectorate “has recognised we are already making improvements, providing improved support for apprentices learning.

“We appreciate the findings of Ofsted’s monitoring report and are working closely with them to ensure we meet and surpass these standards in our full inspection later this year.”

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