Learndirect debacle shines light on £2m teacher test contract

The future of online tests for trainee teachers is hanging in the balance, as the only provider which holds a contract to deliver them in England faces turmoil over its adult training.

Learndirect, the country’s largest private training company, holds a £2 million contract with the Department for Education to administer the computerised professional skills tests which would-be teachers must sit to achieve qualified teacher status (QTS).

However, this month it was hit with an ‘inadequate’ grade from Ofsted for its adult education provision, after the High Court decided not to prevent the result from being published.

Nevertheless, the DfE has chosen not to serve the three-month termination notice for the company’s adult education contracts that would typically be expected after a grade four.

Instead, it has been allowed an extension of an additional eight and a half months, after which time the company will no longer be able to provide training.

In court, Learndirect argued that immediate termination would have serious financial consequences and could imperil other parts of the business.

The DfE insisted that it had extended the wind-down period in part to reduce disruption for users of Learndirect’s services, including “prospective teachers”.

Separately from its adult training contracts, Learndirect is the sole provider of the QTS skills tests, which it currently offers in 55 locations across England.

“We have put in place a managed wind-down of their Education and Skills Funding Agency contracts, which includes specific conditions to prevent the delivery of inadequate provision,” said a DfE spokesperson.

“Had we terminated, there would have been a real risk of Learndirect quickly entering into administration, resulting in significant disruption to learners and others who use their services, such as prospective teachers.”

Learndirect is contracted until 2019 to deliver the professional QTS skills tests, which are sat by over 30,000 prospective teachers each year, though an extension of two years may be granted.

A spokesperson for the organisation told Schools Week that the ‘inadequate’ grade “does not affect” its contract for QTS tests, and that Learndirect would “continue to meet its contractual obligations”.

The spokesperson insisted that the company is “financially stable” and has “moved quickly to ensure the business responds” to the challenges of winding down its adult training.

Learndirect is the largest adult training provider in the country, with over 22,500 apprentices and almost 11,000 learners on other courses recorded in its latest Ofsted report.

Among its criticisms, Ofsted’s report said Learndirect’s “directors and senior managers failed to take swift and decisive action to stem the decline in performance over the past three years”.

No concerns are reported with regard to the operation of the QTS tests.

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