Concerns raised over future of 73,000 trainees following damning Learndirect report

18 Aug 2017 By Emily Burt

Educators and politicians urge government to provide a better deal for learners

Concerns for tens of thousands of trainees and apprentices have been raised following a damning report on Learndirect by the UK’s education watchdog, which branded the trainer ‘inadequate’.

Learndirect, the UK’s largest provider of adult training and apprenticeships, has almost 73,000 existing trainees on its apprenticeships and training programmes and had received apprenticeship contracts worth £158m in the year to July 2017, according to the latest Department for Education (DfE) figures.

However, a blistering report from Ofsted, which Learndirect tried to suppress with a High Court injunction, revealed that 70 per cent of apprentices trained with the company failed to meet the minimum standards required for their course, and six in 10 did not achieve their apprenticeship on time.

Following the report, the DfE announced that it would be withdrawing funding from the organisation, leaving thousands of apprentices around the country facing an uncertain future. In a statement yesterday, Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, described the report as the “latest evidence of the damage done by government cuts, privatisation and falling investment.

“We hope the government has listened to our call to step in and protect trainees and apprentices in the short term, but in the long term it still leaves serious questions about the provision of training, as well as how we got into this position in the first place. This is why ministers should take direct control now, to make sure the service is protected and restored to its previous high standards.”

The DfE said it would try to reduce disruption for the 58,000 learners and 16,000 apprentices currently training with Learndirect by terminating funding when its current contracts end in July 2018, rather than serving a three-month termination notice – its typical notice period given to providers. However, Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), questioned the department’s motives.

“The AELP understands that the government chose to extend the contract rundown period because of the huge number of learners involved,” he said. “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 that have indicated they are prepared to take them on.”

In a personal blog post published yesterday, former Learndirect trustee Donald Clark also called on the government to move apprentices to alternative providers, writing: “The government should intervene here and effect a transition to another entity, to protect what jobs they can, but more importantly to provide a better deal for the tens of thousands of young people who have had their life chances dented by these clowns.”

One former trainer and assessor for the company told the BBC’s World at One that trainees had been getting a “poor experience”.

“There were so many learners to the number of assessors; we were encouraged to do a lot over the telephone, which is not a great experience for the trainees,” Mike Brieley said. “The learners were down the pecking order in terms of what the company required us to do.”

In a statement made yesterday to the Guardian, a Learndirect spokesperson said: “Like all providers in the sector, we’ve had to manage a reduction in central government funding. For Learndirect this totals a 50 per cent reduction in our adult skills funding over the last five years.”

Meanwhile, a DfE spokesperson said on Tuesday: “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 and where providers are failing to meet the required standards it is right that action is taken. 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 Ofsted report relates only to Learndirect Limited and does not affect Learndirect Apprenticeships Limited, which will continue offering apprenticeships under the government’s new levy funding system.

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