Select Committee on Public Accounts Tenth Report

1  The quality of Jobskills training

1. The Department contracts with Training Organisations to deliver accredited training and sets annual targets for their performance. It has sought to assure the quality of training in two ways - first, through its 'Jobskills Quality Management System', by formally accrediting each Training Organisation every three years against a set of standards; and second, through an annual programme of sample inspections undertaken by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), part of the Department of Education for Northern Ireland.

Contracting with Training Organisations

2. We asked the Department what assessments it makes of Training Organisations before letting them participate in Jobskills. The Department said that each contract is let for three years, after a check to make sure that the organisation has the right systems. Based on the ETI inspection results, it appears to us that this initial assessment process has not been very effective. Weak initial assessments of standards undermine the training system and will inevitably cause problems in the future. We also noted that, at one stage, the Department had authorised a one year 'blanket' renewal of all existing contracts, without any review of performance. This is poor practice. Failure to link contract renewal to performance achievement sends out the wrong signal to Training Organisations and provides no incentive to improve standards.[5]

Weaknesses in the quality of training

3. The C&AG's Report noted that, based on the results of ETI inspections, it is possible that '1 in 3' trainees currently on Jobskills - that is, some 4,000 young people - are in an organisation or occupational area where the quality of training is below-standard. We asked the Accounting Officer how he could justify this astonishing statistic. We were told that the Department has quality improvement systems whereby, following an adverse inspection, a training provider would have to produce an improvement report. The provider would then be subject to re-inspection within two years.[6]

4. Subsequent to the hearing, the Department submitted evidence that the quality of training had improved since the C&AG's review. More recent data from ETI showed that the proportion of training areas inspected in which there were significant weaknesses, or where weaknesses were greater than strengths, had fallen from '1 in 3' to '1 in 4'. While we welcome this improvement, a below-standard training provision in 25% of training areas inspected is still much too high - this equates to some 3,000 trainees still at risk of receiving sub-standard tuition. The Department needs to get a grip on this and raise the standard of training in these organisations as a matter of urgency.[7]

Poor monitoring and control of training

5. While the Department said that it would not allow Training Organisations to persistently deliver a below-standard quality of training, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests otherwise. The case studies in the C&AG's Report, highlighting examples from ETI inspection reports of poor quality training, make particularly grim reading. Despite the shortcomings, none of the funding provided to these organisations had been clawed back. We saw no evidence of any financial penalties or sanctions having been applied and no contracts had been terminated (see also paragraph 11 below).[8]

6. One of the most damning aspects of the Department's monitoring of training quality was the extent to which there were recurrent weaknesses - many of those noted by the C&AG had previously featured in ETI's reports. The degree of incidence was staggering. For example:

  • 'Deficiencies in the quality of directed training within Training Organisations' - noted in 23 (88%) out of 26 inspections
  • 'Poor development and ineffective incorporation of Key Skills within training' - in 23 (88%) out of 26 inspections
  • 'Poor quality of work placements' - in 15 (58%) out of 26 inspections.

Time and time again, inspections showed that the Department was being 'taken for a ride' and yet it had done virtually nothing about it. The Department provided no explanation as to why it had failed to address these weaknesses when they were first highlighted by ETI.[9]

7. It is hard to know whether the Department's lack of an effective response to the weaknesses repeatedly reported by ETI was down to incompetence or indifference. The result, however, is that substantial numbers of young people on the scheme have been let down. The Department must respond quickly and effectively to cases of below-standard training. For those organisations that fall substantially short of the mark, there should be a system of sanctions and penalties, while those who persistently fail to meet the standard should have their contracts terminated. The Department needs to send a clear message to underperforming Training Organisations that sub-standard training will no longer be tolerated.

5   Qq 83, 85, 87; C&AG's Report, para 3.48 Back

6   Qq 3-5; C&AG's Report, para 2.36 Back

7   Ev 13 Back

8   Qq 19, 78-80, 85; C&AG's Report, paras 2.22 (Figure 5), 2.35 Back

9   Qq 84, 87; C&AG's Report, paras 2.20 (Figure 4), 2.24, 2.26 Back

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