Spending watchdog to investigate Learndirect and DfE

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The National Audit Office has officially launched an investigation into Learndirect and the DfE’s decision to continue to fund the training provider after it was rated 'inadequate'.

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Learndirect claims to be the largest provider of childcare apprenticeships in the country

Despite receiving the lowest inspection grade by Ofsted in March, Learndirect, the largest further education training provider in the country, has yet to have its contracts terminated by the Department for Education.

The DfE said in August that it would gradually wind down Learndirect’s funding for adult education courses by next July as it wished to avoid to disruption to Learndirect’s 73,000 learners.

Typically, providers in receipt of Government funding that are found to be inadequate by Ofsted are given a three-month termination notice from the Education Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), the executive agency of the DfE that is accountable for funding education and training. However, the DfE told Nursery World that the notice period can be longer in certain circumstances.

The move by the DfE has sparked claims by opposition MPs that the training provider is receiving ‘special treatment’ because it is ‘too big to fail.’

The National Audit Office (NAO), which scrutinises public spending for Parliament, has subsequently announced it will carry out an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the monitoring, inspection and funding of Learndirect.

Reports suggest the investigation, which will be conducted during winter 2017-18, was prompted by the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Labour MP Meg Hillier.

The NAO said that the investigation will examine the ‘key facts’ relating to the ESFA’s decisions about its ongoing funding of Learndirect following its inadequate Ofsted inspection.

In a statement released last week, Learndirect said it had invited the NAO to undertake an investigation ‘as a means of establishing a clear evidence case for a more informed political and public debate around a complex issue’.

The training provider, which originally tried to suppress publication of its Ofsted report, went on to say it had ‘nothing to hide’.

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Following the Ofsted report, we have taken swift action to work with Learndirect and put safeguards in place to protect learners.

'We welcome the NAO’s investigation and will look at its findings when published.'

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