A college with campuses in St Albans and Welwyn Garden City has been criticised by an education watchdog for failing to act on “serious weaknesses” in its apprenticeships.

Oaklands College, which also operates in Borehamwood, has been told it ‘requires improvement’ for the second time, after being given the same mark in 2018.

An Ofsted inspection from September 2021, which was published last week, found provision for apprenticeships was ‘inadequate’, and raised concerns that leaders hadn’t acted upon “serious weaknesses” in a substantial proportion of the provision.

In response to the report, the college noted that the apprenticeship provision made up around 5 per cent of the college’s total service, and its work with adult learners, those with high needs and its study programmes were all given a good rating.

It added that they are working through the Ofsted process to establish why inspectors downgraded the mark in relation to apprenticeships.

The college currently has 2,950 learners on study programmes, 1,050 adult learners, 589 apprentices and 313 learners with high needs.

In the report, Ofsted inspectors said, “Too many apprentices do not get the opportunity to practise what they learn at college within their job roles.

“Apprentices do not understand how the theory they learn at college will help them to become better at their jobs.

“They cannot explain, for example, how the skills they learn in fabricating workshops apply to the industry setting in which they work.”

It added: “Leaders have failed to identify and act upon the serious weaknesses in a substantial proportion of their apprenticeship provision.

“They underestimated the impact of the weaknesses they have identified on the quality of apprentices’ learning experience.

“As a result, too many apprentices do not enjoy or benefit from their training.”

The inspectors also noted that leaders do not ensure enough employers are fulfilling their commitment to give apprentices time away from their job roles to learn, and “too often” assessors do not provide helpful feedback to allow apprentices to improve.

However, the report spoke more positively about the experience of other parts of the college provision.

It said learners on study programmes “benefit from a purposeful and focused curriculum. Their access to specialist vocational pathways enables them to progress to employment and higher-level study.”

The report also said leaders ensure staff have good subject knowledge, adding: “This helps learners to develop their skills to professional standards quickly. As a result, most learners develop the skills needed to succeed in their chosen careers.”

The inspectors also praised the “highly effective” support for vulnerable learners and the effective use of assistive technology for learners with complex needs, and said leaders had set high expectations for behaviour for those at the college.

However, to improve the inspectors said that more focus should be placed on those with apprenticeships and internships.

The report concluded: “Leaders must develop robust and accurate processes to identify weaknesses in their apprenticeship provision. They must then take decisive action to ensure that employers and apprentices benefit from high-quality training which is relevant to their job roles.”

The list of required improvements also included the need for ongoing high-quality careers advice and guidance, and ensuring that apprentices should understand how radical views may impact on their personal and working lives.

In response to the report, a spokesperson from Oaklands College said: “The College has been rated as good across 95 per cent of its teaching provision, including young people, adults and students with high needs following its recent Ofsted inspection.  

“This is a tremendous achievement and is testament to the excellent work of its staff.  On the final afternoon of the inspection we were then informed that our apprenticeship provision, which is in the region of only 5 per cent of the College’s overall provision, had been downgraded to ‘inadequate’.  

“The College has excellent relationships with its employers, who consistently feedback positively about the College’s provision and that continued through the inspection.

“The College is still working through the Ofsted process to understand what the evidence was to support the sudden change in grade on the last afternoon.  

“The College remains totally committed to teaching apprentices already enrolled at the College and we are continuing to work closely with students and employers.

“We would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank our staff, students and stakeholders for their continued and excellent support, which has contributed to the College being rated as ‘good’ across 95 per cent of its provision.”


Ofsted report is available here https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/provider/31/130723