The changes that the apprenticeships and skills system has seen in recent years have completely altered the landscape by bringing hundreds of new apprenticeship providers into the market.
With this has come a massive challenge: how can you possibly ensure that the reforms have the desired impact on quality when those offering the training to apprentices have no prior record?
More on this: Insufficient progress at 1 in 5 new training providers
New apprenticeship providers
That is why, of course, Ofsted pledged to carry out an initial monitoring visit with all new providers within the first two years of them training apprentices. Now, more than 400 of these have been carried out – and the findings are mixed, to say the least.
A Tes analysis of the data published by Ofsted on visits carried out since March 2018 and the monitoring visit reports published between 31 August 2019 and 14 October 2019 shows that a fifth of new apprenticeship providers have been judged by Ofsted to have made insufficient progress in at least one of the three areas inspectors commonly look at.
Moreover, about 18 per cent had made insufficient progress on at least two of the three measures, and 5 per cent – one in 20 – made insufficient progress on all three. It should be said at this point that Ofsted’s choice of which providers to visit first is not random – and therefore the 430-odd reports looked at are not a random cross-section of new providers, either.
The findings are concerning, however. So much so, in fact, that former skills minister and current chair of the Commons Education Select Committee Robert Halfon has called for a crackdown on poor quality provision, saying apprentices are being let down by providers that often have no track record. “Any new providers judged by Ofsted to be making insufficient progress should be removed from the register," he said.
Leadership and management
The inspectorate says the main weaknesses are around leadership and management, and the quality of training – crucial aspects in anyone's book.
Ofsted stresses it will carry out full inspections within two years of the monitoring visit, and these will paint a much clearer picture of where the sector is. It is probably also fair that providers have the opportunity to improve – especially if they are new to the market.
There is, of course, also Ofsted's new inspection framework to consider. Introduced last month, it significantly impacts the way full inspections will work in the further education and skills sector. According to the inspectorate, monitoring visits will continue as they did before the new framework was introduced.
Whichever way you look at it, however, there are clearly providers out there, currently training apprentices, that have no prior record on apprenticeships and that were, at the time of Ofsted's visit, making insufficient progress.
Sure, it is a new system, and new systems take time to find their footing. But apprentices, who are being attracted by high-profile advertising campaigns and the prospect of quality training alongside a salary, only get this one shot. After a dramatic drop in starts, their number is climbing slowly – meaning more people will be affected. A balance will have to be struck between allowing a system to bed in and making sure young people are not, once again, shortchanged.