How Schools Week complained about a job advert and uncovered a strange situation

A misleading job advert targeting prospective teaching assistants has been removed by the company responsible after pressure from Schools Week.

The New Skills Academy, a private online training company, was using The Guardian’s popular jobs website to advertise a teaching assistant diploma.

The description claimed that to secure a job as a TA, applicants must be “qualified to a certain standard”.

TA jobs rarely require prior training and the deceptive content of the advert has spurred the GMB, a trade union that represents TAs, to ask the Department for Education to investigate the incident.

The New Skills Academy offers 10 online courses on education all graded at different “levels”.

This advert is peddling a clear untruth and I will be writing to the Department for Education to demand that it investigates

The “complete SEN diploma”, for example, is labelled as “level four”, which would usually be the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in National Vocational Qualifications, even though it only takes 15 hours to complete.

The courses are said to be accredited by a body called “the Independent Vocational Course Appraisal Service” (IVCAS).

However, IVCAS is not on the register of qualifications regulated either by Ofqual or the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment. Nor is it recognised by the Federation of Awarding Bodies.

Rehana Azam, GMB’s national secretary for public services, said the advert was a “shocking” example of the “unregulated Wild West” that support staff face in finding work.

“This advert is peddling a clear untruth and I will be writing to the Department for Education to demand that it investigates,” she told Schools Week.

“Teaching assistants perform demanding and inadequately rewarded roles.

“This shocking case underlines the need to introduce national professional standards and restore the School Support Staff Negotiating Body.”

The original version of the advert said: “To start a career as a teaching assistant you need to be qualified to a certain standard to be considered for the position, we can train you for as little as £40 so you can pursue your new exciting, rewarding career.”

Jon Richards

But after Schools Week highlighted the inaccuracy, it was changed to read: “To start a career in teaching it would be beneficial although not mandatory to be qualified to a certain standard to be considered for the position.”

Chris Morgan, owner of the New Skills Academy, offered refunds to anyone who felt misled.

“When this was brought to our attention the advert was changed immediately, the mistake was an oversight by the member of staff who posts the course adverts,” he said. “If anyone feels misled then we will offer full refunds.”

Jon Richards (pictured), the head of education at Unison, another trade union that represents TAs, said: “The advert for the course is loaded with suggestive wording and seems to offer an unknown accreditation.

“It’s difficult to see how a three-month online course would prepare someone for the demanding role of working with pupils in the classroom.”

Who are the New Skills Academy – and are their courses worthwhile?

Courses from the New Skills Academy vary across sectors – including ‘Running an ironing business’, ‘Canine communication’, and a ‘Christmas course’, which costs £299 and includes “exams” about planning your holidays.

The 10 teaching-related courses offered on its website are described as varying in “level” from one to four, but they are all awarded via an online unsupervised test which can be repeated multiple times.

Schools Week signed up to take the “complete SEN diploma” at levels two, three and four. It was originally listed at £299, but a coupon alert on the site allowed us to sign up for £69.

The course is detailed, including 22 modules of material to read through, with learning objectives and “test yourself” quizzes at the end of some sections.

Module titles include “the history and evolution of SEN” and “psychological perspectives of behaviour”.

However, a special needs expert who examined the materials for Schools Week raised concerns.

For example, one section appears to make presumptions about children with English as an additional language.

It states: “The law in the UK does not classify children who speak English as a second language as SEN pupils. However, this does not mean that these pupils cannot have learning disabilities. Some children whose first language is one other than English have learning difficulties, too.”

However, our expert Sara Alston, an independent SEND and safeguarding trainer with 30 years’ experience in schools, said the materials were “written in a way that makes no sense at all and feels deliberately written to make it sound academic”.

She pointed out that the content includes out-of-date details.

“We don’t have IEPs [individual education plans] anymore or seven main areas of SEN, and TAs will not be contacting the local authority for resources,” she said.

“The description of ASD [autistic spectrum disorder] is also inaccurate. I am concerned about the use of phrases such as ‘emotional disturbance’.”
Alston, who has herself developed online TA training courses, said “jargon-free language” and “real-life examples” are important, especially as the content may also be accessed by parents trying to learn more about their children’s needs.

“Someone is trying to pass off very little knowledge as an awful lot of knowledge,” she concluded. “If somebody came to me and was quoting bits of this I would not be employing them. This is not the language of the British SEND system and has not been for many years.”

When presented with these comments, Chris Morgan, the owner of New Skills Academy, said the SEN course “is verified by our own expert – the Deputy Headmaster of a Special Education school”.

Our courses are provided to introduce the student to the subject and to help them increase their confidence

The SEN diploma is classed as going up to level four, which is officially the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in national vocational qualification levels. New Skills Academy’s version only takes “15 hours” to complete, according to its own website.

When approached by Schools Week about the level equivalences, Morgan said they are “based on the content and how much knowledge a student can gain from the course”.

“Some of our courses are beginner, intermediate and advanced, others are assessed by levels,” he said.

He claimed his organisation was not claiming to offer “a degree or any other college/university qualification”, or anything “Ofqual or Federation of Awarding Bodies-approved”.

“Our courses are provided to introduce the student to the subject and to help them increase their confidence and develop the skills needed to go on to apply for a job in their chosen field, or to take the subject at college,” he said.

On the New Skills Academy’s Facebook site, Schools Week found an example of an enquiry made about the courses’ levels.

The customer wrote: “Looking at different courses you offer … it says level three. What does this level relate to please?”

In response, a New Skills Academy representative replied: “Level three is the level that the course was awarded when we had the courses accredited.”

When this customer pressed it on NVQ equivalence, New Skills Academy said they were “standalone courses” and “diplomas in there [sic] own right”.
Schools Week asked Morgan if he was concerned the levels might be misleading for customers.

“Our students are aware that these are online courses only and are not equivalent to any college based courses, such as NVQs,” he said.

“We have never had a customer complain that they thought the course was equivalent to an NVQ. If any customer is unhappy with a course, we offer full refunds.”

IVCAS has same owner as New Skills Academy

The New Skills Academy claims its courses, including those for teaching assistants, are accredited by an independent appraisal service called IVCAS – but both organisations appear to have the same owner.

The firm’s 10 listed education courses, which cover subjects including “positive handling in schools”, a “dyslexia diploma” and even a full “teaching diploma”, are all accredited by a body called the Independent Vocational Course Appraisal Service, or IVCAS for short.

“IVCAS does not provide teaching courses. We evaluate online courses to ensure that they meet our minimum criteria for quality and functionality. Once a course passes this a provider can use our logo/branding,” said a spokesperson for IVCAS.

IVCAS’s website says it is the “first awarding body solely for online vocational courses”.

To manage any perceived ‘conflict of interest’, I do not get involved in the day-to-day running of the business

But Companies House records show that both New Skills Academy and IVCAS are owned by one entrepreneur, Chris Morgan.

Morgan’s first project, Be-a Education, was set up in 2013 and operates the New Skills Academy, while his international recruitment and advertising agency Click 4 Careers was established in 2014, and runs IVCAS.

When Schools Week first asked about the connection between IVCAS and the New Skills Academy, Morgan told us they were “not a sister organisation”.

But when presented with evidence showing the link to Click 4 Careers Morgan sent a statement explaining why he set up the organisation.

Morgan said: “IVCAS is a company set up through Click 4 Careers. There are a team of individuals who control the running of the company and the accreditation process. I set up the company because I wanted to ensure any online courses could be accredited to a high level and we employed a team to thoroughly check the content of the courses.

“To manage any perceived ‘conflict of interest’, I do not get involved in the day-to-day running of the business, but I am very proud of the fact that we are now helping tens of thousands of students to go on to achieve their goals by providing courses which are written to a high standard.

“IVCAS has a strict process that is followed to check the courses. We recognised that there was a lack of certifiers for online courses at the time and didn’t just want to provide courses without them being fully checked to a high standard, so setting up IVCAS was an obvious business decision.”

The New Skills Academy website states that courses are also accredited by the CPD Certificating Service, the International Accreditation Organization, and the Complementary Medical Association.

Morgan noted that “any organisation, business or school can verify our courses through all the accredited companies mentioned on our site”. The site assures learners that they can have “peace of mind” about their new qualifications because “all of our courses have been approved by IVCAS and CPD”.

On Facebook, the New Skills Academy says its qualifications are “recognised nationally by schools and businesses”. However, they are not recognised by government exams watchdog, Ofqual, which told Schools Week that “as long as an organisation is not pretending to offer courses regulated by Ofqual, then we don’t have a view on it”.

“Our remit only covers qualifications that we regulate – we have no jurisdiction over unregulated qualifications that are not listed on our register of regulated qualifications,” he said.

NSA Statement:

Chris Morgan – MD, New Skills Academy

“The levels of our courses are based on the content and how much knowledge a student can gain from the course. For instance, some of our courses are beginner, intermediate and advanced, others are assessed by levels.

Our courses are provided to introduce the student to the subject and to help them increase their confidence and develop the skills needed to go on to apply for a job in their chosen field, or to take the subject at college.

Our students are aware that these are online courses only and therefore we do not offer any qualification which involves practical or classroom based study.

We do not claim to be offering a degree or any other college/university qualification

There are many online course providers offering similar courses to us, but we have received many awards for our courses and hope that this assists our students when they are choosing their course provider.

The description for the SEN course states that it is ‘designed to help learners understand the skills and gain the competence involved in working with Special Needs students’. We do not claim to be offering a degree or any other college/university qualification or an Ofqual or Federation of Awarding Bodies approved etc.

IVCAS is a company set up through Click 4 Careers. There are a team of individuals who control the running of the company and the accreditation process. I set up the company because I wanted to ensure any online courses could be accredited to a high level and we employed a team to thoroughly check the content of the courses.

To manage any perceived ‘conflict of interest’, I do not get involved in the day to day running of the business, but I am very proud of the fact that we are now helping tens of thousands of students to go on to achieve their goals by providing courses which are written to a high standard.

IVCAS has a strict process that is followed to check the courses. We recognised that there was a lack of certifiers for online courses at the time and didn’t just want to provide courses without them being fully checked to a high standard, so setting up IVCAS was an obvious business decision.

Our courses are also accredited by CPD, IAO, the CMA and others. Therefore, if anyone has any doubts about IVCAS, we hope that these other accrediting bodies should alleviate any concerns about our courses.

In response to your expert, our SEN course is verified by our own expert – the Deputy Headmaster of a Special Education school.”