Low volume does not equate to low risk when it comes to apprenticeship delivery: Learning from Employer Provider Ofsted Inspection Outcomes

Low volume does not equate to low risk when it comes to apprenticeship delivery

Learning from Employer Provider Ofsted Inspection Outcomes

As the academic year came to an end and further education & skills providers reflect on what has been a challenging period, we want to share our findings from a review of Ofsted inspection outcomes in England to help inform your self-assessment process this Autumn.

This post focuses on outcomes from full inspection reports of employer providers published between Sept 2018 and August 2021.

Employer providers are captured as part of independent training providers data so can get lost in the mix.

Apprenticeship provision is usually a small part of what an employer provider does on a day to day basis. This is an interesting dynamic which we often see with colleges and universities too. It raises the important question of how you sustain a high level of focus on provision that can get lost in in the bigger scheme of everyday priorities. My mantra, when faced with the occasional senior leadership team who queries why apprenticeship deserves their attention? Low volume does not equal low risk. Ignore it at your peril.

Employer Provider headline information

The majority of full inspections were conducted pre-Covid.

Total full inspection reports published Sept 18-Aug 21 Outstanding Good Requires Improvement Inadequate
22 0 8 11 3


14 of the 22 or 63% of inspection reports published during that period are less than ‘Good’.

5 Areas for Improvement (AfI) to keep a close eye on

Let’s look at those reports in more detail, to help you consider the key issues to reflect on when evaluating the quality of your own provision.

Here are the five AfIs we identified, supported by quotes from inspection reports, we would recommend reflecting deeply on if you are an employer provider when evaluating your own provision. We have shown examples where it is an identified AfI alongside an example of a strength to show you the contrast.

  1. Weak quality assurance and governance arrangements. This includes leaders not tackling weaknesses identified at previous inspection/ monitoring.

When we support providers to improve the quality of their provision, we always focus on leadership and management arrangements first. Leaders are often good at explaining how apprentices fit within their wider talent strategy. Where they can be less effective is in demonstrating the effectiveness of arrangements to oversee the quality of delivery. Self assessment reporting and quality improvement planning isn’t a paper exercise – invest the time and resource to do it well. Know and act upon your own strengths and weaknesses long before an inspector calls.

Leaders, managers and those responsible for governance do not have a good enough understanding of the areas requiring improvement in the quality of education. The quality assurance activities carried out by managers do not focus on improving the overall experience of apprentices. Managers do not have robust improvement plans in place to take appropriate action. They do recognise that too many apprentices left their programme early last year due to management changes.

Leaders and governors have clear and sensible plans to improve their knowledge of the quality of teaching by their subcontractor but it is too early to judge the effectiveness of their actions.


  1. Ineffective use of starting point assessment and accrediting existing knowledge and skills

It’s important to make the distinction between initial assessment taking place and it being used well as a start point from which to train effectively and assess progress. Employer providers usually have a form of IA in place. The issue identified during inspection relate to it being used to drive the programme of delivery.

Staff must use the information they collect about what apprentices already know and can do at the start of the programme to identify their knowledge and skills gaps. They should then make sure these gaps are resolved in apprentices’ individual programmes.

New leaders have taken rapid action and current apprentices are making better progress. They develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours that employers value.


  1. Apprentices do not make good progress on programme resulting from ineffective assessment practice.

The ability to give targeted, effective feedback is a stand-out skill. Feedback is an intrinsic part of teaching and assessment. In apprenticeship frameworks, the issue often related to presenting feedback on completion of units as opposed to specifics on knowledge, skills and behaviours to inform the next stage of the programme of learning. In delivery of apprenticeship standards, concerns over feedback remain frequent in ‘Requires Improvement’ reports.

Too few apprentices make the progress that they should. Skills coaches do not adequately assess apprentices’ skills and knowledge. They do not provide good feedback on how apprentices can improve.

Most apprenticeship specialists do not make effective use of assessment. They develop plans to make sure that apprentices complete the required modules. However, the assessment is not used well enough to inform the apprentice about specific gaps in their knowledge.

Even within ‘Good’ reports it appears:

Tutors do not provide learners with good enough feedback for them to be able to improve the quality of work in written assignments.

 When done well, you might see this:

AAP apprentices receive good support from practice-based educators (PBEs) and paramedic mentors. Mentors accurately assess the knowledge, skills and behaviours that AAP apprentices develop. They provide helpful feedback on how well apprentices work with patients and how they could improve the quality of their care.



  1. Apprentices do not receive information, advice and guidance to inform progression

IAG can seem an odd fit for employer providers. The best example I can give to explain why it is important is to consider how your organisation supports an apprentice who realises part way through or, at the end of the programme they have made the wrong career choice (it happens!). How well are they supported to find their new path either within your organisation or elsewhere?

Apprentices do not receive enough advice and guidance to prepare them fully for their next steps. Too few apprentices are aware of the opportunities they have after they complete their programme, or whether the apprenticeship will help them attain their career aims. As a result, they are unable to make informed choices about options for further study or employment within the business.

Apprentices benefit from helpful and comprehensive careers advice and guidance. Staff match this to apprentices’ aspirations well at the start of, and during, their apprenticeship.


  1. Too few apprentices make good progress in maths and English

Whilst the focus of achieving Level 2 maths and English is a clear requirement of apprenticeships, ensuring delivery staff and apprentices recognise that the curriculum must continue to develop maths and English whatever their prior attainment level is often misunderstood.

Apprentices do not receive enough help to improve their wider written English skills.

Apprentices quickly make good progress in developing their skills in English and mathematics.


We hope this gives you a helpful starting point to your internal self assessment process. The key as to ensure evaluating provision includes the voices of your apprentices and delivery teams and, leaders take ultimate accountability for the resulting report and the strategic priorities identified in the quality improvement plan.


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