Injunction lifted on critical Ofsted report

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Image caption,
Learndirect offers courses and training to adults in sites across England

The future of one of the UK's largest adult-training providers is in question after it failed to block publication of a critical report by Ofsted inspectors.

Learndirect had obtained an injunction against publication but this was lifted by the High Court on Monday.

The report, which will be published on Thursday, is likely to highlight "ineffective" managers and high non-completion rates among students.

The company said it was "extremely disappointed" with the verdict.

It is understood the Sheffield-based company, which offers apprenticeships and adult training to thousands of trainees in sites across England, was awarded the lowest possible grade - grade four - by inspectors.

An investigation by the trade magazine FE week has revealed the company had been issued with warning notices by the Skills Funding Agency.

'Ineffective' management

According to reports passed to the BBC by the trade newspaper FE Week, which was in court, the Ofsted report says the "management of apprenticeships is ineffective".

It says about one in every three of the apprentices did not receive their entitlement to off-the-job learning, failing to develop the skills required to progress to the next step in their career.

The court also heard concerns about the proportion of apprentices who did not complete their apprenticeship on time, which has been increasing "steadily over the past three years".

In a statement, Learndirect said: "Learndirect Limited's underlying business remains stable, and we continue to be focused on supporting our learners as usual."

Learndirect, which was privatised in 2011, has more than 70,000 trainees on its apprenticeships and training programmes and employs more than 1,600 staff members.

It said it had challenged Ofsted's inspection over concerns that the process did not give a "true reflection" of the company's training quality and performance.

FE Week editor Nick Linford said an Ofsted grade four was extremely serious for a private training provider.

"In these cases, public funding is nearly always withdrawn, and Learndirect indicated in court that they had been told this would happen to them.

"As nearly all of their income would be withdrawn, they said they would likely go bust and over 1,600 people would lose their jobs."

But Mr Linford said learners should try not to panic, as it was not uncommon for a training provider to go bust.

"The government are resourced to support them and find an alternative provider to ensure they complete their course," he said.

"Given Learndirect's published performance figures were so poor and that they were heavily criticised by Ofsted for delivering limited training or skills development, I would actually expect a switching of provider to be a positive outcome for current Learndirect learners."

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David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said local colleges would be ready to support those affected.

"The most pressing concern must be for the students and the impact this will have on them," he said.

"Colleges across the country stand ready and able to assist in securing ongoing learning opportunities for those students and apprentices affected."

Joe Dromey, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said the owners of Learndirect had "some very serious questions to answer".

"It appears that they have raked in vast amounts of public money, extracted tens of millions of pounds from Learndirect, loaded the company with debt, overseen a catastrophic decline in standards, and tried to stop the truth coming out.

"This should be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee."

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said the government should intervene to resolve the situation.

"It is clear that something has gone seriously wrong since the coalition government privatised this service, and the future education and training of thousands is now at risk.

"If necessary, ministers should be prepared to step in directly and ensure that trainees and apprentices are protected, their courses are completed and adult education is placed on a sustainable footing."

Report delayed

A spokesman for Ofsted said the inspection had been in the spring, but publication of the report had been delayed initially because of the general election and then because of the court injunction.

He said: "Seventeen inspectors took part in this inspection over four days when they spoke to learners and apprentices.

"Inspectors interviewed employers, apprentices and learners in person and over the phone, reviewed portfolios of work, and looked at progress reviews when they gathered evidence.

"As well as visiting apprentices in their workplace, inspectors also reviewed a wide range of evidence to ensure that both the judgements and inspection grades were secure.

"Ofsted will publish the inspection report about this learning provider on Thursday."

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