A SMALL Northampton-based company this week became the first private training provider to be awarded top marks across the board by government inspectors.
The successes are in areas where private providers will be competing directly with colleges for Learning and Skills Council cash from next April.
Training Standards Council inspectors, in their report on Aston Commercial Training, said: "The training provided in business administration is outstanding."
The company also gained the top grade in equal opportunities, trainee support, management of training and quality assurance.
Achievement rates are high, with 77 per cent of modern apprentices and 71 per cent of national trainees completing the full awards. This is double the unofficial completion rates nationally of about 35 per cent.
Aston is a family-run company with nine full-time and four part-time staff contracted to Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce Training and Enterprise. It trains 78 young people at any one time in business administration and also runs a recruitment service, largely for 16 to 25-year-olds.
"Teamwork is the key to the company's success," says senior TSC inspector atthew Coffey. Daily planning meetings set immediate targets and strategies.
Staff are involved at all stages of the planning process and each employee gets their own personalised copy of the business plan.
Managing director Beverly Whatmore believes that the small size of the company helps her to keep her finger on the pulse and keep communication channels open.
"Give your staff the vision that you have. If you're not there, the vision goes too."
The inspectors praised the emphasis placed on recruiting and supporting groups that are under represented in the sector. More than 13 per cent of trainees are from ethnic-minority groups and 29 per cent have disabilities. The inspectors were also impressed by the teaching materials and guides, which are all produced in-house.
Do public and private providers have anything to learn from each other? Mr Coffey has seen good and bad practice in both sectors. "Colleges often have strengths in teaching and some private providers need to shift the emphasis to teaching rather than assessing, but many colleges also need to find ways to go out into the workplace and engage more closely with employers."