Providers ‘beaten up’ by Ofsted over basic skills

Difficulty of proving English and maths progression could lead to course closures

Julia Belgutay

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Training providers are being “unfairly” penalised by Ofsted because inspectors are focusing too narrowly on English and maths, senior leaders in the sector have claimed.

Providers delivering traineeships have been particularly harshly treated, according to the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP). With an inadequate grade usually resulting in Skills Funding Agency (SFA) contracts being terminated, the AELP warned that many providers were considering reducing their involvement in the programme.

Traineeships, designed to help learners progress into employment, an apprenticeship or further study, last for a maximum of six months. AELP chief executive Mark Dawe told TES that providers were being “beaten up” because of the difficulty of demonstrating learners’ progression over such a short period.

“Providers should not find themselves threatened with contract termination because of data based solely on qualification outcomes – or be given grade 3s [requires improvement] by the inspectorate – simply because of English and maths, when [their performance on] the main outcomes required under the traineeship framework has been outstanding,” he argued.

As a result, many providers were considering scaling down or even completely withdrawing from traineeship delivery at a crucial time for the programme, Mr Dawe said.

Sharp focus on English and maths

TES analysis of Ofsted reports published under the new framework reveals a sharp focus on English and maths provision.

Of the 100 reports for independent training providers released since September, all but three specifically mention English and maths provision. More than half the reports criticise the English and maths provision for learners in some way, particularly where providers have been graded as requires improvement or inadequate. In several cases, shortcomings in how a provider has supported learners to achieve their English and maths qualifications are listed among the reasons for it not being judged outstanding.

IPS International in Kent was rated as requires improvement earlier this year. The Ofsted report says that most of its trainer assessors “lack the confidence and expertise to help learners improve their punctuation, grammar, spelling and calculations”.

It concludes: “Not all learners appreciate the importance of these skills for sustaining employment and their career progression.”

Don MacDonald, director of IPS International, said that its traineeship provision was carried out by a subcontractor. With regard to apprenticeships and work-based learning, he added: “Not getting the right evidence on English and maths in front of Ofsted inspectors can be fatal for independent training providers, in that they could get a grade 4 and lose their SFA contract.

“Providers are being graded unfairly. English and maths can even affect the grade for personal development, behaviour and welfare. It will [also] impact on each of the apprenticeships, work-based learning and traineeships [grades]. It is a case of hitting providers with the same club as many times as they can.”

'Overall impression'

Ashley McCaul, chief executive of London-based traineeship provider Skills for Growth, said: “Inspectors are making far too much comment and far too much analysis on maths and English achievement.

“The purpose of a traineeship is transition into work. You have a responsibility as a provider to make sure you are developing the wider abilities of a learner, and that includes literacy and numeracy. But it isn’t and shouldn’t be the sole outcome of a traineeship. That is not what the programme is about.”

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges, said it made sense for Ofsted to focus on an area that contributed to a key government policy. “However, it is important to note that Ofsted also inspects other areas of college teaching and leadership to provide an overall impression of the quality of education,” he added.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “The government stipulates English and mathematics education requirements for apprenticeships and traineeships in the SFA rules. Inspectors will, therefore, inspect with these expectations in mind. Ofsted looks at the quality of these subjects, along with a range of other factors, when inspecting apprenticeships and traineeships.”


This is an article from the 10 June edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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