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Why not scam an apprentice? After all, FE colleges are

It wasn’t a good January for Epping Forest College

On January 6th, the entire college was rated as “inadequate”, including its apprenticeship provision. So it was curtains for Epping Forest, as far as joining the new register of apprenticeship training providers went.

The register has been set up by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

The college hasn’t even got the heart to appeal. Instead, its new principal said that they were going to improve their offer and reapply next year.

The effective ban on apprenticeship training doesn’t actually come into force until May. But astonishingly, according to a report in Further Education Week, (, the college intends to carry on recruiting apprentices until May 1st.

In other words, despite knowing that their offer has been rated as inadequate, they will encourage young people to sign up with them. What possible reason can they have for this, other than a cynical desire to rake in money? (This amounted to £717,000 in 2016/17, so nothing to sneeze at).

The college must be aware that employers will know that these apprentices have been through a substandard course. However, a spokesperson commented that apprentices at the college wouldn’t be adversely affected by the rating given to the college after the Ofsted inspection. Absolutely not – what will adversely affect them is the poor learning experience that is clearly being provided.

Have our colleges really reached the point where they care nothing for the students and their futures, and see everything through the lens of an Ofsted inspection?

Employers aren’t happy with this. Mark Dawe is head of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, and he thinks the college should not be able to recruit apprentices right now. After all, private training businesses would stop recruitment in these circumstances, so why not a further education college?

This isn’t the only college with severe problems in its apprenticeship training. Bolton College was given a grade 3 “Requires Improvement” rating in 2015. Except for its apprenticeship offer, which managed to stand out with an even lower grade of 4 and an “Inadequate” rating.

Bolton’s principal was fast off the mark in writing to the SFA to demand that the rules shouldn’t apply to them, because it would stop them running apprenticeships. Yes really.

It’s hard to imagine a private company being given a lousy rating and thinking a good response would be to say the rating rules needed changing in their favour? Who advises these college heads? Why do they think the rules don’t apply to them? Possibly because £2m, which is what Bolton makes out of its apprentices, is enough to cloud their judgement.

Let’s remember that the top earning FE principal in the UK earns £363,000, and there are many principals on £200,000. Local authorities justify these salaries by saying that they have a performance element. Perhaps some principals deserve these amounts. All too often, however, the performance element defies gravity by staying high as actual performance plummets.

How does it feel to be an apprentice at Bolton or Epping Forest, knowing that you are providing comfortable salaries and excellent pensions for a group of people who in return are giving you – nothing?

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