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Sector Response to the learndirect 2017 inadequate Ofsted Report

Sector Response to the learndirect Ofsted report

Learndirect will be receiving a £45 million allocation from the 2017 / 18 adult education budget, despite its recent Grade 4 Ofsted report. Along with other providers, Learndirect will be receiving a run-down provision, which will be calculated following a review. DfE’s priority is minimising disruption for those apprentices who are still receiving training.

In defence of this decision, Department for Education spokesperson today (8 Sept) said:

Following the publication of Ofsted’s report ‎we have worked closely with Learndirect and employers to put safeguards in place and ensure no learners lose out.

All existing contracts for service providers who were unsuccessful in the procurement or did not bid are being treated consistently. They were all notified in July 2017 that the basis on which the funding for the run-down provision would be calculated would be subject to review.

The long awaited learndirect Ofsted report has been released today (17 Aug). Click here to view the 2017 learndirect Ofsted report.

The Ofsted report found learndirect to be an inadequate provider. 

Here is a summary of the key findings of the report:

  • Directors and senior managers failed to take swift and decisive action to stem the decline in performance over the past three years.
  • Not enough learners and apprentices achieve their qualifications and develop the skills to enable them to progress at work or into further education and training.
  • The performance of subcontractors is not managed rigorously enough, with the result that apprentices taking qualifications with subcontractors achieve significantly less well than apprentices trained directly by learndirect.
  • Too many 16- to 19-year-old learners on traineeships do not complete their programmes.
  • Too few adult learners secure employment when they leave learndirect.
  • Too many apprentices receive insufficient training to develop new skills, and they do not receive enough off-the-job training. 
  • Small and medium-size employers are not involved routinely in planning the programmes of their apprentices or reviewing their progress.
  • Arrangements for monitoring and tracking apprentices’ progress are insufficiently robust to provide managers with a secure view of how many current apprentices are likely to achieve their qualifications on time.
  • Managers do not manage the performance of tutors and assessors well; as a result, they have been unable to raise the quality of teaching, learning and assessment consistently across different subcontractors and learndirect centres.
  • Tutors and assessors do not develop learners’ and apprentices’ English and mathematical skills well enough.
  •  Tutors and assessors do not use the results of assessments of learners’ prior skills to plan learning effectively, and they do not provide helpful feedback at reviews to enable them to improve their work and skills. 

Ofsted found learndirect has the following strengths 

  • The new senior management team has begun to tackle the main weaknesses; early signs of improvement indicate that their actions are beginning to have an impact. 
  • Managers work effectively with major employers to prepare for the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. 

learndirect’s response to the Ofsted report


A spokesperson from learndirect said in response to the report: “We’d like to reassure all our learners, employees, suppliers and partners that learndirect Limited is financially stable. The business is well-supported by our stakeholders and will continue to meet its contractual obligations and the needs of our learners as usual.

“Like all providers in the sector, we’ve had to manage a reduction in central government funding. For learndirect Limited this totals a 50% reduction in our adult skills funding over the last five years. These funding reductions were made at short notice and required significant changes to the business for it to remain viable.

“Our new senior management team, with the support of our stakeholders, has moved quickly to ensure the business responds to the challenges this poses.

“This includes diversifying our income streams and starting to address areas that require development.

“Ofsted’s report acknowledges the improvements being made in this area and the business has moved on further since the inspection in March 2017, with rising learner satisfaction scores and success rates.

“We maintain that the process behind Ofsted’s report did not provide an accurate reflection of the current quality of learndirect Limited’s training and performance due to the unrepresentative sample size and the use of legacy data.

“The report applies solely to provision within learndirect Limited where the funding has come via the ESFA.

“It does not relate to our levy business, learndirect Apprenticeships Limited which continues to grow and is already supporting c.3,000 apprenticeships enrolled to date as part of the government’s apprenticeship levy.

“Nor does it relate to the courses we run for the DWP, European Social Fund, The Home Office, The Standards & Testing Agency and local bodies.

“The whole team works incredibly hard to help learners progress in their careers and we remain focused on continuously improving our services and outcomes for learners.”

DfE’s response

It has been widely reported that on Thursday 17 August Ofsted will publish its latest inspection report for training provider Learndirect, which will rate its apprenticeships and adult education training provision as inadequate. In line with DfE policy, we have confirmed that Learndirect’s apprenticeships and adult education training contract will be terminated at the end of July 2018 and we are working closely with Learndirect, employers, apprentices, and learners to minimise any disruption.

The contract will be gradually wound down rather than immediately terminated in order to protect both learners and users of Learndirect’s essential public services.

It has been reported that this constitutes the Department giving Learndirect “special treatment”. This is not the case. Our policy clearly sets out that contracts should be wound down over a minimum of three months. However, the notice period can be longer where it is determined that is in the best interest of learners. In this case, the size and scale of the contracts involved mean the best way to minimise disruption and protect learners is to wind them down over a year.

Following a poor Ofsted report, we have confirmed that Learndirect’s current adult education budget (AEB) contract with the ESFA will end on 31 July 2018. It is important to note that whilst Ofsted graded Learndirect as inadequate (grade 4) overall, and gave the same grade to their apprenticeship provision, they graded their adult education delivery as ‘requires improvement’ (grade 3).

The AEB contact will be gradually wound down rather than immediately terminated in order that learners are protected.  This contract extension comes with a number of specific conditions designed to prevent the delivery of inadequate provision and ensure that the ESFA has detailed oversight of Learndirect’s delivery over the course of the year.

ESFA funding rules are clear that any contract that is terminated must be given at least a three month winding down period. However, that should be longer where it is necessary to protect learners or essential services. In the case of Learndirect, we decided to give it a year to wind down so that learners still receiving training aren’t unfairly penalised and to avoid jeopardising contracts for other public services.

Commentators have claimed that this constitutes “special treatment”. This is entirely wrong. In fact, around 15 percent of terminations have been given notice periods of longer than three months.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

“We are creating a world-class technical education system and already have the highest number of apprentices on record. We are determined to build on that success so where providers are failing to meet the required standards it is right that action is taken.

“Following Learndirect’s Ofsted inspection we are terminating its ESFA contract. In line with ESFA rules we are winding down the contract over the course of a year rather than terminating it in the minimum three month period. This is in order to protect those apprentices still receiving training.”

“We are working with Learndirect, and employers to put safeguards in place and ensure no apprentices lose out as a result of the contract ending.”

The Sector Response

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

“AELP has for many years maintained a clear and consistent line on providers who have been judged to be grade 4 overall.  The line is that all of these providers, whether a college or an independent provider and of whatever size, should be treated equitably by the ESFA.  Traditionally grade 4 colleges have been allowed to carry on delivering courses subject to taking action in response to the support mechanisms put in place whereas ITPs used to have all their contracts immediately and automatically terminated. 

“In response to AELP representations on what we regarded was an unfair approach, there have been recent examples of ITPs being given the opportunity to put their house in order.  We do however support the government’s policy that any provider judged grade 4 for apprenticeships should not be on RoATP and therefore should not be able to deliver apprenticeships while the grade still applies.  AELP is currently in discussion with the ESFA on the latter’s approach to intervention in the event of a provider failure or inadequate judgement that leads to withdrawal of contracts.  We want to ensure better processes and smoother transitional arrangements in the case of future failures with primary aim of securing the best outcomes for affected apprentices and other learners.”

Mark Continues:

“AELP understands why the government chose to extend the contract rundown period due to the huge number of learners involved.  Nevertheless this is only in the learners’ interest if they are receiving good provision and training programme outcomes; otherwise they should be transferred to the large number of high quality training providers who have indicated that they are prepared to take them on.  As far as Learndirect’s future delivery is concerned, we hope that both the company and the ESFA will ensure that all funding reaches frontline provision for the learners.

‘We note the government’s statement that no special treatment has been afforded to Learndirect.  However we would expect a statement from the ESFA on what the wind-down involves exactly and why it hasn’t been applied to other providers previously found in this position.  Any change in practice should be applicable to all providers in future whatever their size but the interests of the learners must come first.”

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David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “The recent news story concerning Learndirect leaves a number of question marks over its ability to operate which need to be resolved quickly.  The most pressing concern must be for the students and the impact this will have on them.  The continuity of their learning has to be pre-eminent now for the Education and Skills Funding Agency as it works with Learndirect.  Colleges across the country stand ready and able to assist in securing on-going learning opportunities for those students and apprentices affected.”

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Tony Allen, Allen Apprenticeships and Skills, and a former Director at the Skills Funding Agency comments: 

“My view of LearnDirect is that not only should they have their Government funding terminated before July 18, and all of the learners transferred, but that they should also be removed from RoATP. By remaining on the register, they will still be able to deliver to Levy paying employers. This is a nonsense, even if they argue it is done through a different part of the business. They should be given a red card, and prevented from taking on any new learners, however funded, until they can prove by reapplication to the Register that they are fit to receive public funds. We will only build the future reputation of apprenticeships by zero tolerance of poor quality. I hope that the majority of employers who pay the levy, will not entertain signing a contract with an ‘inadequate’ provider, and those who already have, will think again.”

Joe Dromey, IPPR senior research fellow, comments:

“The unfolding events at LearnDirect are truly shocking. Just six years after it was privatised, LearnDirect has been left on the brink of collapse, burdened by tens of millions of pounds of debt, and found to have been inadequate in an Ofsted report it tried to block in the courts. “But this isn’t just the failure of a private company. It’s the failure of the biggest provider of adult training in the UK and, most importantly, it is a failure of public policy. “While this is shocking, it’s perhaps not surprising. The Government has pushed competition between private providers in adult skills, it has eased controls on quality, and it has slashed funding in the system. This looks more like a systemic failing than an individual scandal. The Government must urgently learn the lessons of LearnDirect.”

What are your views about the learndirect Ofsted report?

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