Questions remain over North Yorkshire’s adult learning and skills service

County Hall in Northallerton.

Question marks continue to hang over North Yorkshire’s adult learning and skills service, which was found to be failing in all areas by Ofsted.

The head of the North Yorkshire County Council service said while it had made progress “beyond green shoots of recovery” since a damning report in 2017, it remained unclear whether inspectors would move it out of the “requires improvement” status.

Alistair Gourlay said concerted action had led to a substantial improvement across a number of qualification aims, including in functional English qualifications which make up a substantial part of the courses offered, with 28 per cent of students now in provision which was below minimum standards.

In 2016/17 the service had been subject to a minimum standards
intervention by Ofsted, because 43 per cent of students – just over 600 – were in provision below minimum standards.

Ofsted issued the ‘requires improvement’ grade after finding all aspects of the service lacking, including quality of teaching, outcomes for learners, its learning programmes and apprenticeships.

Inspectors also found leaders and managers had been unsuccessful in tackling a number of the key areas for improvement since the previous inspection in 2014.

As a result, Ofsted concluded there had been a decline in the achievement of adult learners on qualification courses, and the pace of improvement in the proportion of apprentices completing their qualifications within planned timescales had been too slow.

Alistair Gourlay, head of the service, told the council’s Transport, Economy and Environment Overview and and Scrutiny Committee Ofsted inspectors were expected to return  imminently to check on progress.

He told members key changes had included a drive to improve apprentices’ English and maths skills and a new software solution to enable the service to “operate in a much more modern way”.

Mr Gourlay said: “I am fairly clear the service is very different now to the one which was inspected in June 2017. We are definitely beyond the green shoots of improvement. Whether those green shoots will be enough for Oftsed to make a judgement we no longer require improvement I don’t know. .

“A five per cent improvement in our overall achievement rate is probably the most significant thing that has happened. We’ve not only stopped the decline that happened in 2016/17, we have upped our qualification rate to 78.5 per cent. It’s still somewhat short of the national rate of 86.9 per cent, but at least we are on an upward trajectory.”

However, in apprenticeship provision, whilst there has been improvement in most apprenticeship programmes, in the largest area of provision, Supporting
Teaching and Learning, achievement stands at 60.4 per cent which is below
minimum standards.

Mr Gourlay said as apprenticeships took on average 18 months to complete there could be a time lag on service improvements being shown.