Safeguarding fears as Ofsted inspectors rate Sunderland City Council apprenticeship and adult learning services 'inadequate'

Sunderland Civic Centre
Sunderland Civic Centre

Government inspectors have branded Sunderland City Council's further education and apprenticeship service 'inadequate' and highlighted concerns over 'risks of radicalisation and extremism.'

An Ofsted report published this week found safeguarding was 'ineffective' and leaders and managers had not properly assessed the risks of radicalisation and extremism and had failed to prepare instructors to discuss the risks with learners and apprentices.

Coun Robert Oliver

Coun Robert Oliver

Tory Group leader Coun Robert Oliver described the findings as 'deeply troubling,' while Lib Dem leader Coun Niall Hodson said the report described a council which was 'slow, indecisive, and in some cases completely unaware of the services they run."

A city council spokesman said the authority was 'very disappointed' with the report's findings had 'already put an improvement plan in place.'

The report highlights failures by the Tyne and Wear Care Alliance (TWCA), which provides the council's apprenticeship service: "Safeguarding on apprenticeship provision is ineffective," it says.

"Apprentices do not understand how to keep themselves safe from risks, including the risks of radicalisation and extremism, or how to report any safeguarding concerns that they may have.

Coun Niall Hodson

Coun Niall Hodson

"TWCA managers do not have a record of safeguarding issues or incidents at subcontractors and, therefore, do not know whether or not apprentices are safe. Apprentices’ understanding of safeguarding is mostly limited to issues that might affect their clients.

The report looked at performance in six areas: 'Effectiveness of leadership and management', 'Personal development, behaviour and welfare', and 'Apprenticeships' were all rated 'Inadequate,' while 'Quality of teaching, learning and assessment', 'Outcomes for learners', and 'Adult learning programmes' were rated 'Requires improvement.'

It condemns a failure by councillors and senior managers to get to grips with the service's problems: "Elected members and senior leaders have been too slow to recognise and hold managers to account for the recent deterioration in the achievement of apprentices and the emerging safeguarding concerns. They have not been decisive enough in ensuring that managers take action to address these issues.

"Contract management for the apprenticeship provision has not been robust enough to identify and arrest the deterioration in the quality of the provision since the last inspection. Apprenticeship provision does not fully meet the principles and requirements of apprenticeships

"Self-assessment is weak. Managers are not effective enough in improving the quality of teaching, learning and assessment."

It says the council needs to 'urgently' improve safeguarding arrangements, improve the flow of information to councillors and senior managers on the performance of the service, and strengthen monitoring of subcontractors's performance.

The report is kinder to the council's adult learning programmes, saying learners enjoy their courses, 'achieve their learning goals and progress to further learning, employment or apprenticeships', councillors are 'committed and passionate advocates of the benefits that the service brings' and the curriculum 'meets the needs of employers and communities.'

A City Council spokesman said: "We’re naturally very disappointed about the findings of this report.

"We have already put an improvement plan in place and are addressing the major issues raised around Prevent and British values.

"Inspectors acknowledged that the majority of learners complete their courses and achieve their qualifications and that the curriculum has been developed to serve both local employment and community needs well.

"Our focus continues to be on our learners and ensuring that they achieve success."

Conservative group leader Coun Robert Oliver said: "This latest report from Ofsted is deeply troubling as it has many similarities with the failure of Children's Services in city and it would appear that lessons are not being learnt.

"Of particular concern is the inadequate rating on safeguarding which runs all the way through the report and reveals that learners are not being properly protected

"Young people are also being let down by low retention rates on apprenticeships; a lack of knowledge of the risks of radicalisation and poor arrangements for safeguarding

"Much of the responsibility for the decline in standards is levelled at the senior councillors who are not properly holding people to account in the same way as with Children's Services

"Again, this is local failure with decisions made by the council impacting negatively on the lives of people in Sunderland and is not about a lack of funding from government."

Liberal Democrat Group leader Coun Niall Hodson commented: "Once again, a report homes in on failures in Sunderland Council’s leadership, and it makes for grim reading. The report describes a Labour council which is slow, indecisive, and in some cases completely unaware of the services they run.

"They are letting the people of Sunderland down in serious ways: failing apprentices, failing to supervise projects, managers and contracts – and most alarming of all, failing to keep students safe.

"It is clear from the report that the Council is functioning as little more than a talking shop, unable to tackle the poor standard of services which are being provided for residents. I’m sick of the excuses – the Labour Group simply have to take responsibility for the way they are running this city.

"There is a complete absence of leadership and accountability at this Council at the moment – it is not merely inadequate, but incompetent, and frankly dangerous."

Coun Harry Trueman Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council and Leader of Sunderland City Council Labour Group attacked the opposition comments: "It’s a default position of political opposition to criticise," he said.

"They’re not the decision-makers looking to balance the ever increasingly precarious budgets that they have imposed on this Council.

"Both Tories and Lib Dems are massively disrespectful of and to frontline workers who are striving to do their best as a result of the heinous Tory/Lib Dem austerity programme that has created these challenging circumstances.

"This is a service that helps more than 3,000 people every year into further learning, employment and apprenticeships and to achieve the independence that goes with that.

"As ever, the opposition is true to form in hyperbole and hypocrisy.

"Nonetheless, we recognise the inspectors report and we’re naturally very disappointed about the findings.

"We have already put an improvement plan in place and are addressing the major issues raised around Prevent and British values.

"Inspectors acknowledged that the majority of learners complete their courses and achieve their qualifications and that the curriculum has been developed to serve both local employment and community needs well.

"Our focus continues to be on our learners and ensuring that they achieve success.

"As both Tories and Lib Dems conveniently failed to recognise, this service is outsourced to others and that the report confirms the Council's intention to bring about stronger contract monitoring processes.”