A fifth of new apprenticeship providers inspected by Ofsted made insufficient progress in at least one area.
An analysis by Tes of more than 430 reports of monitoring visits made by Ofsted to new independent learning providers and employer providers published between March 2018 and 14 October 2019 shows that 20 per cent of providers were found to have made insufficient progress on at least one of the areas they were inspected on. Some 18 per cent had made insufficient progress on at least two of the three measures commonly assessed, and 5 per cent made insufficient progress on all three.
Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, said that providers that had received the lowest grade should be prevented from delivering apprenticeships.
“It is clear that far too many apprentices are being let down by providers which often have no track record of delivering high-quality apprenticeship training,” the former skills minister said. “Any new providers judged by Ofsted to be making insufficient progress should be removed from the register. Only by getting tough on those that are not up to scratch can we ensure that apprentices will get the quality of training and opportunities in life that they deserve.”
More on this: Ofsted to inspect all new apprenticeship providers
Ofsted's risk-based approach 'vindicated'
The proportion of providers with insufficient progress in any of the three measures (four for those with adult learning provision) has dropped from 21 per cent before September 2019 to 13.8 per cent among the 59 providers since then. Three providers were found to have made insufficient progress in all three areas (5.1 per cent) since then. However, many of these inspections were carried out before the new Ofsted framework was introduced.
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: "With the levy's introduction, Ofsted started inspecting on a risk-based approach so one would expect the first tranche of new providers to be the ones with the worst outcomes, vindicating the inspectorate's approach.
"The positive trends also highlight the work the sector has collectively done to drive up the quality of the new providers."
Of the 31 adult education providers that have been measured on four outcomes – the fourth looking at the progress leaders and managers have made in ensuring learners benefit from high-quality adult education preparing them well for their intended career - one received a insufficient progress in this area, with 29 making reasonable progress and one recording significant progress.
Apprenticeships: 'Insufficient progress'
The introduction of the apprenticeship levy and the government’s register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP) led to a significant increase in the number of providers. Initially, 1,708 providers were approved to deliver apprenticeships on the RoATP in March 2017; that number now stands at 2,455. Ofsted does not inspect providers on the RoATP until they have entered into a contract with an employer and started to deliver apprenticeships.
In September 2018, the Department for Education announced it would provide funding for Ofsted to carry out monitoring visits of all new training providers entering the apprenticeships sector. Ofsted said it would return within a year to new providers that it deemed to have made "insufficient progress" at their first monitoring visit, in order to carry out a full inspection.
The monitoring visits look at the progress made in: ensuring that the provider is meeting all the requirements of successful apprenticeship provision; ensuring apprentices benefit from high-quality training that leads to positive outcomes; and ensuring that effective safeguarding arrangements are in place.
A spokesman for Ofsted said there had not been a big change in the approach of monitoring visits to new providers since the introduction of the new inspection framework, adding: "The education inspection framework mainly affects our full and short inspections."
Inspecting 'dynamic and fluid' sector
The spokesman added how long it would take Ofsted to visit all new providers depended on "how long there continue to be new providers that are newly funded". "We normally carry out a monitoring visit to a new provider within two years of it beginning to deliver, and then carry out a full inspection within two years of the monitoring visit.
"The further education and skills sector is dynamic and fluid, with mergers and new providers. Our approach to monitoring visits to new providers allows us to inspect in a risk-proportionate way, in accordance with the time frames detailed in the inspection handbook."
The spokesperson said leadership and management, and quality of training, had been the main weaknesses inspectors had encountered.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We have strengthened the RoATP to give employers the assurance they need that their apprentices will receive high-quality training.
“These changes show our commitment to improving the quality of apprenticeship training and we will continue to work with Ofsted to ensure that providers adhere to our standards.”