Jim Carley, Managing Director, Carley Consult Ltd
Much has been said about Learndirect’s infamous Grade 4 inspection, and the train of events which led to it. It’s not for me to comment on the inner workings of Learndirect, beyond the obvious recognition that standards have fallen. What has, however, rankled with many is the perception that Learndirect have received “Special Treatment” by the DfE and ESFA. But is it necessarily wrong to treat Learndirect a little differently under the circumstances?
 
Contractually, the ESFA may terminate if a provider is awarded a Grade 4, giving notice of at least 30 days, with 3 months having become the precedent. The ESFA state that 3-months “allows us to ensure learners are protected through a managed transfer to providers with good quality provision with employer agreement.” It is far from clear, however, that 3-months is sufficiently long enough to achieve this, or if it provides enough incentive for the terminated provider to play ball.
 
First4Skills went into administration earlier this year, immediately following a Grade 4. They were only given the obligatory three-month notice period, leaving little incentive to delay the inevitable. Immediate staff redundancies were instigated. The extent to which First4Skills estimated 6,500 learners may have been adversely affected by the relative haste of termination may perhaps never be fully known.
 
A lesson is surely that the length of notice should be proportionate to the number of learners affected, balanced against the imperative of removing learners from poor provision swiftly. I am not suggesting here that Learndirect’s extended notice through to July 2018 is necessarily the correct duration, but I do think it is right that the ESFA have some flexibility, rather than a one size fits all approach. By putting a carrot of extra time and money on the table, the ESFA will be hoping that Learndirect will apply its best endeavours to support an effective transition. Some might call this Special Treatment, others may call it prudent risk management.
 
The real lessons are less about what happens next, and far more about what should have happened before. Learndirect were a Grade 2 provider when last inspected in 2013. All was seemingly well. At some point since, standards dropped to a level of contractual unacceptability, but this wasn’t brought to light until this year’s inspection. Learndirect did not previously appear on the ESFA’s list of “Current Notices of Concern”. The trend towards Grade 4 could well have been long term, but seemingly with no sufficient mechanism to flag and redress this. Once the Grade 4 was awarded, it was too late. Arbitrary termination kicked in and learners’ futures became even more uncertain.
 
This issue is compounded by the diversity of funding allocations. In August, Norfolk Training Services, with an ESFA funding allocation of £1.3m and around 400 apprentices, went into administration following a Grade 4 inspection. A regrettable story, but one where the redeployment of learners should be eminently manageable. In contrast, Learndirect’s 2016/17 overall funding allocation was over £150m – more than 100 times that of Norfolk Training Services, and a bigger single allocation than that of the 400 providers with the smallest allocations put together. Of course, this should warrant “Special Treatment”. You cannot simply turn off a £150m contract without consequences.
 
The bigger question is surely how any single provider should be awarded such a colossal allocation in the first place. If Learndirect are perceived as being “too big to fail”, it is only because of the scale of funding afforded to them. There are currently 30 providers with funding allocations over £20m, and almost 100 with over £10m each. Any of these could be the “next” Learndirect or First4Skills. If, however, the ESFA awarded more uniformly sized allocations, it would be far easier to apply consistent treatment to all, and the risk of financial exposure would be much reduced. The bigger the allocation, the greater frequency of monitoring required to negate the risk of a nasty surprise Grade 4.
 
Learndirect are certainly not getting it all their own way. The Public Accounts Committee are threatening an investigation, an arguably unprecedented response to a Grade 4 inspection, and perhaps Special Treatment of a different kind. Meg Hillier, Chair of the Committee, has already said: “There is no real prospect, it seems to me, of Learndirect surviving this scandal.” The pitchforks and torches are clearly out! But before we all too readily condemn Learndirect, let’s not lose sight of the important wider lessons needed to prevent a similar fate for any other provider.
Jim Carley, Managing Director, Carley Consult Ltd

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page