Belfast Telegraph

Education watchdog brands learndirect training 'inadequate'

The UK's largest adult training and apprenticeships provider has been rated "inadequate" by the education watchdog.

Ofsted said Learndirect Limited was delivering inadequate apprenticeships and outcomes for learners, while the quality of teaching, assessment, personal development and adult learning programmes all required improvement.

The company, which is owned by private equity firm Lloyds Development Capital (LDC) - an arm of Lloyds Bank, said the report was not an "accurate reflection" of its performance.

The damning report was published on Thursday after a failed bid to block it in the High Court and the Government said on Wednesday that learndirect's contract with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (Esfa) will be wound up by July next year.

It is understood the company, which employs 1,645 people and was responsible for around 79,500 learners over the last year, has not taken on any new apprentices since May and will no longer deliver apprenticeships.

Ofsted, which said it stands by its methods, said inspectors found the management of nearly 23,000 apprentices on learndirect's programmes was "ineffective", with a third not receiving the off-the-job learning allowing them to progress their careers.

The report said: "The proportion of apprentices who complete their programmes successfully and the proportion who achieve within their planned timescale have declined over the past three years and are very low."

Six out of 10 apprentices in 2015/16 did not achieve an apprenticeship within their planned timescale and 70% of apprentices in that year fell below minimum standards, inspectors said.

The report acknowledged that the actions of a new management team had begun to have an impact on tackling the weaknesses, while tutors were said to provide good support for adult learners.

Inspectors also highlighted that, while the business was split in two in 2016 and apprenticeship provision carved off into a separate firm called Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd, the transfer of contracts had not taken place as the time of the inspection in March this year.

A spokesman for learndirect said the company had been subject to cuts in Government funding but was "financially stable".

The Government previously confirmed it has given learndirect contracts worth £158 million for the year to July 2017.

The spokesman said: "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.

"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.

"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."

The report did not relate to Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd, which has around 3,000 apprentices enrolled as part of the Government's apprenticeship levy, or any of the programmes the company provides for the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office or other official bodies, the spokesman added.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said the inspection raised "serous questions" about training provision and was an example of the "damage" caused by privatisation and funding cuts.

She said: "This is why ministers should take direct control now, to make sure the service is protected and restored to its previous high standards.

"It's time for a different approach, which is why Labour would invest in genuinely high-quality technical and adult education, with free lifelong learning for all, so that people can re-skill and re-train throughout their lives."

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