1st January 2016 at 00:00
The time for giving is over

Training for nothing

When times are tight, everyone likes to get something for nothing. In this regard, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) did pretty well in 2014-15, it would seem. The agency’s final figures for that year reveal that providers delivered £25 million more adult skills training than they were actually funded for.

The most generous institutions were Bournville College, which remained unpaid for £1.2 million of provision, and The Manchester College, which ended up out of pocket to the tune of almost £1.4 million. But while this may sound remarkably lavish in a period of austerity, the overall sum is significantly lower than it was in the preceding 12 months, when providers delivered a massive £65 million of training outside their SFA allocations. Indeed, no fewer than eight providers ended up more than £1 million out of pocket.

The provider with the biggest overspend in 2013-14, Learndirect (£1.75 million), seems to have learned its lesson: it didn’t spend a penny over its allocation the following year.

While providers can apply for extra cash to allow them to meet greater than expected local demand, in recent times, much of this additional funding has been diverted towards apprenticeships rather than classroom-based training. Accordingly, they are left with a choice between turning learners away or recruiting them at a loss.

As the Association of Colleges put it 12 months ago, when there’s a long list of stakeholders willing them to do more, “it’s sometimes difficult for colleges to say no”. This time around, it seems that funding pressures have prompted more of them to get tough. FErret would wager that the overspend for 2015-16 will be even lower.

Chain reaction?

It would be fair to say that Ofsted and the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) – the country’s biggest multi-academy trust (MAT) – have a bit of previous. Back in 2014, the watchdog warned that too many of the academy chain’s schools were not good enough.

“It remains the case that around half the academies in the trust are not yet good,” said Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s chief operating officer, at the time.

Now AET has come under fire again – this time, for its apprenticeship provision. The MAT currently has 22 apprentices on its books, and has “the intention to grow that figure significantly in the coming years”, according to its first inspection report as an independent training provider.

But again AET has been found wanting, with Ofsted giving it an overall rating of requires improvement. “Targets set for a majority of apprentices focus too much on the completion of activities, assessments and unit completion, rather than the development of skills, knowledge and further understanding,” the report concludes.

AET needs to introduce “robust” observation of its teaching, learning and assessment, use a range of assessment tools, set individual targets for apprentices and improve its tracking of their progress if it is to improve, according to Ofsted. That’s plenty for the chain to be getting on with before inspectors make their return in the not-too-distant future.

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