Learndirect has insisted that its business remains "stable", despite the imminent publication of a critical Ofsted report.
The inspectorate has said it will publish a report on the country's largest training provider – employing more than 1,600 people – on Thursday, which is expected to rate its provision as "inadequate". This is likely to trigger the termination of its funding from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).
Learndirect's ESFA allocations for 2016-17 were worth more than £100 million. The agency's funding agreements allow for early termination where there are issues of quality, which can be triggered by an "inadequate" Ofsted rating. The move would also have significant ramifications for the firm's subcontractors. In 2015-16, it used 64 different subcontractors for delivery.
The unpublished Ofsted report relates to an inspection of the Sheffield-based provider in March by 17 inspectors over a four-day period. The company said it was "extremely disappointed" with the verdict, but said it continued to be focused on supporting its learners “as usual”.
Ofsted 'very pleased'
A spokesman for Ofsted said it was “very pleased” that an injunction lodged by Learndirect, blocking the publication of the report, had been lifted.
“Inspectors interviewed employers, apprentices and learners in person and over the phone, reviewed portfolios of work and looked at progress reviews when they gathered evidence,” he said. “As well as visiting apprentices in their workplace, inspectors also reviewed a wide range of evidence to ensure that both the judgements and inspection grades were secure.”
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said there were "a number of question marks over [Learndirect's] ability to operate which need to be resolved quickly". He added: "The most pressing concern must be for the students and the impact this will have on them. The continuity of their learning has to be pre-eminent now for the Education and Skills Funding Agency as it works with Learndirect. Colleges across the country stand ready and able to assist in securing ongoing learning opportunities for those students and apprentices affected.”
'Not a true reflection'
A spokesman for Learndirect said that its “underlying business remains stable”, and added that Ofsted’s inspection had been challenged because “we believe the process did not give a true reflection of Learndirect Limited’s training quality and performance”.
“The business presented compelling evidence as part of the appeal to support this view. In particular, we felt that the sample size of 0.6 per cent used by Ofsted to arrive at its conclusions is not sufficient to judge the quality of Learndirect's training. We are, therefore, extremely disappointed with the verdict. Learndirect Limited will continue working with the ESFA to ensure our learners are fully supported as they proceed with their courses as usual,” he added.
The spokesman stressed that the outcome of the inspection did not affect the non-ESFA and e-assessment contracts held within the company’s adult skills business, Learndirect Limited or Learndirect Apprenticeships Limited. “We continuously review our performance and strive to provide the highest standards of service for learners and apprentices," he added.