School apprenticeship training company 'not fit for purpose' says Ofsted

A company that runs apprenticeship training for schools has been branded “not fit for purpose” by Ofsted after inspectors found apprentices did not “learn anything new” on its courses.

The Key6 Group, which was set up by former headteacher Dr Jerry Grundy and runs an ‘apprentices in schools’ programme, began “swiftly” recruiting after it was approved to provide training funded by the apprenticeship levy last March.

But inspectors said it made apprentices “shoehorn” their existing work into a portfolio to get a free qualification, rather than teaching them anything new. The company has complained about the report.

The large majority of apprentices are not even aware that they are an apprentice

Ofsted carried out a recent special monitoring visit to the Merseyside company, and found that the “vast majority” of apprentices who met Ofsted inspectors complained their programme is “not meeting their needs”. Directors are also “slow to act on the negative feedback”.

“The large majority of apprentices are not even aware that they are an apprentice, and identify themselves as studying a level 5 management course,” the report said.

Schools are under increasing pressure to hire apprentices to make the most of money paid into the apprenticeship levy – a 0.5-per-cent tax on every organisation with a payroll over £3 million.

Schools with 250 or more employees also have to hire a number of apprentices equivalent to 2.3 per cent of their workforce every year under new public-sector apprenticeship targets. This makes them an important market for apprenticeship providers like Key6, which promote their school programmes to school leaders.

In a video uploaded to YouTube, Grundy introduces himself as a former headteacher and sings the praises of his firm’s ‘apprentices in schools’ programme.

He claims schools can use apprentices to “enhance their staff-to-pupil ratio” because they can “take their fair share of pupil supervision” and “optimise qualified teachers’ contact time in the classroom”.

He claims the company is increasingly placing apprentices as school IT technicians, sports coaches, office staff, estates and maintenance personnel and in school hospitality.

“At Key6, we understand that every school is different, and so, how right it is to find the right apprentices for your school,” he continued.

Inspectors said leaders are “unjustifiably optimistic” in their evaluation of “high standards of teaching, learning and assessment to apprentices”.

Craig Pankhurst, the provider’s managing director, said he had complained to Ofsted about the report.

He claimed there had been “positive dialogue” with the ESFA, which would not comment ahead of publication, and welcomed “their advice and guidance”.

“We acknowledge we are a young organisation which inevitably will go through continuous improvement. We embrace constructive feedback and criticism to enable the quality of our delivery to be maximised,” he said.

The charity Mencap, one of Key6’s most high-profile clients, admitted it was not happy with the provider.

“Despite a thorough procurement process, we have been disappointed with the quality of training and other aspects of apprenticeship provision being delivered and have communicated this to Key6,” said its representative.

The charity is now “in the process of assessing our contractual options”.

Key6 launched in 2015 and had 208 apprentices on its books at the time of Ofsted’s visit. More than three quarters were enrolled on management or leadership apprenticeships at levels three, four and five.