Karren Culshaw, Quality and Compliance Professional, Education Star Solutions

It probably comes as no surprise that Ofsted have taken the decision to place subcontracted provision under greater scrutiny with the introduction of monitoring visits announced in February.

The first institution to come under fire is Wigan and Leigh College with the report in March stating “Until recently, arrangements relied too much on college managers ensuring compliance with quality-assurance processes at the expense of evaluating with rigour the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.”

According to Ofsted figures, in 2016-17, 189 providers were judged on the delivery of their apprenticeships: 6 per cent were found to be "outstanding"; 43 per cent "good"; 40 per cent "required improvement" and 11 per cent were "inadequate". This represents only a 49% as good or better overall.

This begs the question what difference will an external audit make?

In recent weeks there have also been several training providers placed under the spotlight with issues of poor target setting and slow learner progress which have once again been raised as issues with subcontracted provision.

At the same time of this announcement, the ESFA have taken steps to ensure prime contractors have robust processes for managing provision through the introduction of a mandatory external audit to assure the prime’s ability to ‘manage and control’ their subcontracted provision.

Lead providers will be in scope if they enter into subcontracts with an aggregate value of £100,000 or more in any one contract year. This begs the question – is a compliance audit alone enough to give assurance of the overall effectiveness of the actual programmes being delivered?

There appears to be a mixed message being given around who is actually responsible for quality overall whether this is Ofsted or the ESFA.

Although the concept of an external review is welcomed by many, particularly with recent reports of failed providers such as Learn Direct who charged as much as a 40% subcontracting fee, the thought of an ‘audit’ gives the impression of a very transactional process to say whether ‘compliance’ has been achieved.

The auditor may be able to say that compliance is strong but what about the actual delivery model? Will this type of audit place the learner journey under sufficient scrutiny to meet the requirements of a successful Ofsted monitoring visit? What about the development of English and mathematics?

There is a lot can be said about poorly managed subcontracted provision but surely a review needs to also look at the robustness of the quality of the actual teaching and learning in some detail as well as the overall experience and impact on the learner.  After all, this will be the focus of Ofsted should a provider be inspected under the newly announced monitoring visits.

Of course, we need to ensure that the funding represents value for money but surely, we also need to ensure that learners are set up to succeed with provision which is of a high quality and is fit for purpose. Will a compliance activity effectively drive improvement or is it another box ticking exercise to satisfy a mandated requirement?

Recently implemented monitoring visits undertaken by Ofsted have already highlighted some significant issues with providers failing to effectively implement their provision. Issues such as a lack of resource to service learner numbers, slow progress and lack of IAG are just a few of the issues which have been raised along with lack of planning for learning.  

Here at Education Star Solutions, we frequently receive enquiries relating to supporting many of the above quality related issues. We can support all these areas impartially and independently to support businesses to ensure that there is a robust approach to quality, as well as the compliance elements of your provision to satisfy requirements of Ofsted and the ESFA.

We can audit the end to end processes of the learner journey comprehensively and provide you with a detailed report of findings which will interrogate your overall programme of delivery and contribute to your quality improvement planning process.

To avoid the pitfalls of an insufficiently detailed audit, get in touch with us for a discussion around how we can support your business to be a quality provider in all areas of the Common Inspection Framework.

Karren Culshaw, Quality and Compliance Professional, Education Star Solutions

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