Government gave special treatment to failing private training provider

“The government gave England’s largest commercial further education provider ‘special treatment’ even though its performance was declining, a group of MPs concluded.

A Public Accounts Committee report out today has criticised the government’s continued commitment to its multi-million pound contract with Learndirect.

The report shows that the Education and Skills Funding Agency and its predecessor the Skills Funding Agency gave Learndirect almost £500m in the academic years from 2013-14 to 2016-17.

However, the PAC also notes that the quality of Learndirect’s apprenticeships have been in steady decline – Ofsted gave it a rating of ‘good’ in March 2013 but downgraded this to the lowest possible rating of ‘inadequate’ in March 2017.

Learndirect instigated a legal challenge challenging the ‘inadequate’ rating, which delayed the publication of Ofsted’s inspection report.

The Department for Education would normally cancel an ‘inadequate’ provider’s contract and withdraw funding immediately, but Learndirect warned that this would impact its 75,000 learners.

The government has since said it is ending Learndirect’s contract to provide apprenticeships and adult education.

Learndirect received £121m from central government in 2016-17 and is expected to get another £105m in the current financial year, the PAC pointed out.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “It cannot be right that individual contractors should command such large sums of public money regardless of their performance.

“No commercial provider should be allowed to become so essential to the delivery of services that it cannot be allowed to fail.”

She added: “Government has a duty to manage taxpayers’ exposure to risk diligently and we urge it to act on the recommendations set out in our report. … ”