Learndirect Ltd is the UK’s largest commercial further education provider, engaging with around 75,000 learners each year. Most of its funding comes from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), but it also has contracts with several other government bodies, for which it is sometimes the sole supplier. In the 2016–17 academic year, the company received £121 million from all of its central government contracts, of which £106 million (88%) was from ESFA. Ofsted planned to inspect Learndirect Ltd in November 2016, but agreed to defer the inspection because the company was negotiating the sale of its apprenticeships business, a sale which did not ultimately take place, despite there being widespread concern about Learndirect Ltd’s performance. Ofsted finally carried out its inspection in March 2017, the same time that ESFA issued the company with a notice of serious breach of contract for falling below expected levels of service, and rated the company’s overall effectiveness as ‘inadequate’. Learndirect Ltd made a formal complaint about the timing and conduct of the inspection, followed by a legal challenge. These steps were unsuccessful, but they delayed the publication of Ofsted’s report until mid-August 2017. The government bodies contracting with Learndirect Ltd have since had to make decisions about their ongoing dealings with the company. ESFA decided to continue funding Learndirect Ltd through to July 2018, and it is possible that the company may retain some government contracts beyond that date.
28 February 2018