DfE denies giving ‘special treatment’ to training provider Learndirect after damning inspection
Department says the formerly state-owned training provider needs to be wound down gradually to protect learners
The Department for Education has insisted it is not giving special treatment to training provision giant Learndirect in the wake of a damning report from Ofsted that rates its services as “inadequate”.
Inspectors said that the business, which is the UK’s largest single provider of education and skills training, had undergone a significant decline in performance over the past three years, which managers had “failed to take swift and decisive action to stem”.
Even before the report was published, DfE announced that the business – which was government-owned until privatisation in 2011 and which receives support from the Education Funding Agency and the Skills Funding Agency – would not have its contracts renewed.
However it has subsequently emerged that the Learndirect’s support will continue until July next year, considerably longer than the three-month notice period given to some other failing providers.
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A statement from DfE said the Learndirect contract would be gradually wound down rather than immediately terminated “to protect both learners and users of Learndirect’s essential public services”.
It said departmental policy set out a minimum of three months for winding down contracts, but was clear that the notice period could be longer where it was determined that such a move would be in the best interests 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,” the department said.
“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.”
In its 15-page report on Learndirect, Ofsted said too few learners and apprentices achieved their target qualifications, with an unacceptable proportion of 16-19 year-olds failing to even complete the programmes they were studying.
Also included in its 11 core areas of failing, Ofsted said the business did not manage its subcontractors rigorously enough, with the result that apprentices on outsourced programmes fared less well in qualifications terms than Learndirect counterparts.
At the time of the March inspection, Learndirect had around 11,000 learners and 22,000 apprentices on its books. Ofsted said it had provided services to more than 79,000 learners over the previous contract year.
According to some reports, Learndirect received £158m in DfE funding for its training provision in the year to July.
Learndirect said it had been hit with a reduction in central government funding that its senior management team had been forced to respond to, but added that it also disputed the extent to which Ofsted’s findings were representative of its operations.
“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,” a spokesman said.
“These funding reductions were made at short notice and required significant changes to the business for it to remain viable. This includes diversifying our income streams and starting to address areas that require development.”
The spokesman said Learndirect believed the process behind Ofsted’s report did not provide an accurate reflection of the current quality of its training and performance due to the “unrepresentative sample size and the use of legacy data”.
He added that the report only related to Education and Skills Funding Agency-sponsored courses and not relate to its apprenticeships levy business, courses it runs for the Department for Work and Pensions, the European Social Fund, the Home Office, and the Standards & Testing Agency.
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