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Are you getting the most from your training provider?

Events reported over the last few days concerning Learndirect have highlighted the importance of quality and effectiveness in the support provided for apprenticeships and other training by professional training providers.

Ward Hadaway’s education, skills and apprenticeships experts take a look at how the Ofsted inspection regime works and, given its relatively light touch approach, what steps employers should consider when assessing the suitability of training providers to support their businesses.

So, what exactly is Ofsted’s role and what does it do?

The remit of Ofsted and its inspection powers are extremely broad. Whilst better known for its role in the school and FE sectors Ofsted is also required to work to ensure high standards in skills training and adult education.

Ofsted applies a common inspection framework across all sectors. Inspection of training providers is undertaken using methodologies set out in its Further Education and Skills Handbook.

Ofsted aims to inspect training providers within three years of establishment and following award of any new funding contract. Thereafter assuming no major issues arise Ofsted describes its approach as risk based – focussing its activities where it can have greatest impact. The Handbook outlines the key indicators used by Ofsted – these include desktop analysis of provider performance, leadership changes, online questionnaire responses from learners and employers and submitted self-assessment reports.

When carrying out full inspections gradings ranging from outstanding to inadequate are applied across various criteria, as well as an overall rating. An inadequate judgement typically enables the Education and Skills Funding Agency to terminate funding arrangements.

What should be my due diligence approach as an employer?

The implementation of the Apprenticeship Levy, combined with the general promotion of apprenticeships as an attractive route into careers, is leading to far greater interest from employers to support skills development through apprenticeships.

Relatively few employers will wish to take up the option of becoming their own training provider, with most turning to training providers to deliver successful apprenticeship training.A positive Ofsted report will be an encouraging starting point but questions can be asked of the training provider as part of a selection process to ensure you have the best chance of receiving effective support for your business and its apprentices:

Track record

Always a good starting point. Training providers make regular performance submissions to the ESFA and should have little difficulty in presenting performance data relevant to the specific skills you are looking to develop.

Delivery of off the job learning

This has become an important expectation within the ESFA. For an apprenticeship to exist 20% of time should be spent off the job in a learning environment. The requirement is supported by guidance as to what constitutes “off the job training”. Providers should be quizzed about how they expect to ensure compliance.

Is the training provider providing you with a good assessor?

Ensure that you have good quality contract management. What are the assessor’s personal qualifications and is there recent industry experience?

Assessment methodologies

A well delivered apprenticeship should start with a rigorous assessment of the apprentice’s prior learning followed by ongoing progress assessment including review sessions with the employer.

Are there stretch targets within the programme?

Is the training provider simply focussed on achieving minimum outcomes or will it offer more ambitious outcomes for the apprentice?

What happens if the basics need attention?

ESFA makes special financial provision to support basic qualifications in Maths and English. The training provider should be responsible for recognising this need and its prioritisation.

Is the training provider good at meeting completion targets?

It’s surprisingly common for apprenticeships not to be completed within the expected timescale. There are many reasons why timescales can slip but examining the training provider’s record in this area can be illuminating.

How can I ensure my training provision is outstanding?

There must always be a contract in place with the training provider. Many providers will offer a model document produced by the training provider representative body AELP. The contract represents a good starting point but can and should be further developed incorporating a customised and carefully thought through method statement setting out how apprenticeships will be delivered in a truly partnering style with the employer.

How may Ward Hadaway help me?

Using a sound knowledge of the ESFA funding rules, we’ve already supported a number of employers entering into new form service agreements with training providers – in the process securing improvements in the way the funding is recognised and managed through the agreement. We’ve helped make sure that training providers commit to working collaboratively with the employer to ensure that expectations are met for both the employer and its apprentices.

Next steps

For a free confidential conversation about how we can work with you to ensure you are getting the best from your training provider, please do not hesitate to contact Frank Suttie.