Gavin O'Meara, Chief Executive and Head of Digital Media, FE News

The tragedy of the collapse of large national Training Providers like 3aaa and other major providers over the past 18 months, are still very deep scars for the sector.

The collapse of 3aaa has affected so many individual members of staff (and their families), learners (and their families) and employers. Many people are still being affected by the tragedy.

Massive Training Providers collapsing, Colleges receiving emergency funds, votes of non-confidence of staff with College Principals. It's a bit depressing. The reputation of the sector is also hugely damaged by these horror stories and scandal. 

What has the sector learnt from these tragedies?

Where is the disaster recovery plan for Training Providers?

We are asking employers to trust us with their Levy funds, for families to trust their young people starting their career to go into Apprenticeships... for politicians to give us additional funds. If you read some areas of the press, why on earth would they?

Every day, Further Education and Work Based Learning make massive life changing differences to individuals and employers. This happens up and down the country, every day and we at FE News want to celebrate this.

Yes, there has been poor provision and yes, there have been a very, very limited number of people fudging the system, but this has negatively affected the reputation of the entire sector.

I am keen to turn this around and one way we are trying to do this in our own little way is to focus on the positive and showcase best practice, innovation and emerging strategy in the sector here on FE News.

There are so many examples of best practice that we publish hundreds of sector news articles every week and have to forward plan Feature articles two weeks ahead at a time, which is great.

Maybe I’ve had too many coffees, but I’ve had an idea, a maverick thought:

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them... someone, anyone needs to call the A-Team.

I understand why the powers that be pulled the plug on 3aaa, but it looked like a knee-jerk reaction in hindsight. It caused chaos to so many staff, learners and employers. Could there be a more orderly way of handling these things?

Colleges have an FE Commissioner and a team to help them with the Area Review process. If there is a crisis on the horizon in a college, there appears to be a support network in place. Other areas of the media regularly cover articles around last minute funds being allocated to colleges who have only minutes left to pay the bills.

It is all a bit dramatic, but it would be even more dramatic if the plug was pulled immediately and a college shut its doors, with thousands of learners not knowing what is happening and staff unpaid and out of work.

How is it different for Training Providers? I don't want to see a college being closed down, but equally I also don't want to see the chaos unleashed when a provider is shut down. 

What support do providers receive during a crisis?

A regular figure that is shared across the sector is that 75% of Apprenticeship delivery is by Independent Training Providers. This is the Lion's share of Apprenticeship delivery. 

If there are funds for FE Commissioners for colleges, shouldn’t there be an allocation of budget to help Providers? There used to be

We all want funding to go to learners and delivery... but pulling the plug immediately on a Training Provider when something is seen to be amiss is very destructive. I don't want to see the chaos and pain of a provider or a college closing down. I also don't want to see a misuse of public funds.

Where is the contingency, where is the order, where is the forward planning? In IT you have disaster recovery, what does the FE sector have planned in the way of disaster recovery for Training Providers? 

Call in the A-Team (A standing for Apprenticeships)!

Could there not be a contingency plan in place, a group of ESFA or DfE approved consultants that are called upon as a temporary stop-gap to steady the ship if a Training Provider is struggling, or worse still they have been found to have done things which they should not have done?

If a college is found to have had 'challenges' there is a support network in place. Why is this not seen with Training Providers? 

Could having a disaster recovery team set up and ready to step in mean a more controlled and organised approach if disaster strikes again? The alternative is a repeat of the chaos caused to 500 staff and even more learners like we saw at 3aaa recently. 

The A-Team would not need to be full time employed, but a group of approved consultants with Apprenticeship and Training Provider backgrounds who are able to come in and be a temporary stop gap to manage an orderly exit. This would be similar to a disaster recovery plan in IT, the plan is there and you hope you never need to use it.

The A-Team could be there to find new provision for learners from struggling or 'at fault' providers, to find new jobs for staff and maintain Employer confidence in the sector. The other option is to once again, be reactive and instantly pull the plug and watch the chaos unfold, along with long-lasting damage to the reputation of the sector. If this type of Training Provider support network was in place, would we avoid the sector damaging scenes we have experienced of late?

I don't agree with spending money needlessly, but surely a short-term specialist team that could actually keep learners, staff and employers seamlessly in the system has got to be a good idea? 

Mark Dawe AELP 100x100Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) comments: 

"For a long time, AELP has been urging ESFA to have a more transparent and consistent form of intervention in failing providers.  This should especially manifest itself in how learners are transferred to other providers with sufficient funding in place for them to complete their programmes. 

"For the larger providers, we believe that there should be a proper system of account management which involves good two-way communication".

What do you think? Do we need an A-Team?

Gavin O'Meara, Chief Executive and Head of Digital Media, FE News and FE Careers

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