Money given by funding bodies to provide training is sometimes channelled from the main provider to smaller providers who act as "subcontractors". They may be responsible for all or part of the delivery and assessment. The main provider may not have expertise in an area or may not have the physical resources to deliver it. Subcontracted provision should meet the standards of the main provider and should be managed to ensure that this happens.

How does the way you manage subcontractors compare with that of the most effective provision seen on inspection?

The following strengths and areas for improvement have been taken from recent inspection reports across the Ofsted Learning and Skills remit.

Common inspection strengths

  • Good selection and management of subcontractors
  • Good quality monitoring of subcontractors

Common inspection areas for improvement

  • Ineffective management of subcontractors
  • Inadequate monitoring of subcontractors

If you were given a similar area for improvement bullet at the end of your last inspection, self assessed this area as an area for improvement, or want to work to avoid such areas for improvement, then consider what inspectors judge to be key.

Particularly effective practice identified in inspections includes:

  • Selecting subcontractors because of their reputation in providing good training or service in a particular area.
  • Identifying the things that you might do better than a subcontractor, such as literacy and numeracy support or initial assessment.
  • Widening participation in training and learning by subcontracting to more local delivery. Some colleges have successfully attracted learners who would not go into a large college but would go into a smaller local centre.
  • Subcontracting part of the training to another provider, for example if unable to provide all of the necessary training themselves, such as key skills. Work-based providers may subcontract because they do not have workshop facilities or a subcontractor is located closer to the learners' workplace than the main provider.
  • Further education colleges often act as subcontractors for off-the-job training, leaving work-based providers to focus on managing the other aspects of the programme.
  • Some FE colleges have improved their services to learners by subcontracting work-based learning to a local training provider, or assessment to an organisation that provides assessment services. They often act as subcontractors for Jobcentre Plus longer training programmes.
  • Having a formal written agreement between the main provider and the subcontractor which clearly identifies:

    • the parts of the education and training process for which the subcontractor is responsible
    • the timetable for training and/or assessment
    • expected qualifications and experience of the subcontractor' staff
    • performance targets, such as those for retention and success rates
    • requirements for promoting and monitoring equality of opportunity
    • health and safety requirements
    • access to reports from external bodies such as external verifiers
    • financial details
    • arrangements for discussing the learners' progress with the subcontractor
    • arrangements for monitoring the quality of the subcontracted provision
    • expectation to take part in self assessment activities and external inspection
  • Working in partnership with subcontractors, building a relationship of trust and co-operation. Identifying particular provider managers who work with the subcontractor and get to know them.
  • Meeting formerly with them on a regular basis, taking written minutes so that key points and actions are recorded, providing a reminder to subcontractors of important information and what is expected of them.
  • Setting agreed written targets with the subcontractor and monitoring performance against them on a monthly basis.
  • Taking action if a subcontractor's performance falls short.
  • Having easy arrangements in place to enable learners within subcontracted provision to be able to complain directly to the main provider.
  • Having comprehensive provider quality improvement arrangements in place (such as observation and learner surveys) of subcontracted provision, or ensuring that subcontractor quality procedures are robust enough to give the same information.
  • Some examples of robust "internal inspections" of subcontractors on an annual basis, leading to post inspection action plans (replicating "real" inspection).
  • Including subcontractor staff in provider staff development and self assessment activities.
  • Where there are several subcontractors, having arrangements in place to identify and share good practice between subcontractors and your provision.

Healthcheck questions

Health check

How do written contracts with the subcontractor detail expected performance and monitoring arrangements?

Who are the named managers  who lead on monitoring and review arrangements with the subcontractor?

Look at the recent minuted formal meetings with subcontractors, how are agreed action points followed up?

How are your quality systems applied to the subcontractor?

How does this include their input into your self-assessment report?

How is good practice identified and shared?

Are your complaints procedures available to learners with the subcontractor (check to see if they are being used and if any recent outcomes still need to be resolved)?

How do you measure the effectiveness of your subcontractors?

How do your subcontractors keep you informed about the progress of your learners and any problems?

Do you resolve problems swiftly and effectively (give examples)?

How do you check external reports of the subcontractor, such as external verification?

Are you confident that learners have just as much chance of success with the subcontractor as they have with you? What is your evidence for this?

What could you do next to improve your provision?

  • Read inspection reports to identify what the best providers are doing in your particular type of provision or area of learning (also check other types of provision as good practice is usually transferable between inspection contexts - adult and community learning, college, DWP, work-based, etc). As well as looking at providers with ‘outstanding’ aspects or monitoring visit reports with judgements of ‘significant progress’, look at providers who are similar to yourself in terms of remit, size and what they offer – Ofsted inspection reports
  • Get a clearer and richer understanding of what you need to do to improve – Learner-centred self-assessment
  • Use downloadable quality-improvement resources to develop your staff team and to focus on actions that will help to improve your provision – Actions for quality improvement
  • Adopt or adapt the best bits of other providers’ work that inspection has identified as being particularly effective – Ofsted good practice database examples
  • Measure just how effective your initial-assessment system is and if your quality-improvement initiatives are working – Data projects
  • Develop a blueprint for initial assessment of your learners – Initial assessment and support
  • Check whether your self-assessment report is fit for purpose – Self-assessment surgery projects
  • Use the guidance developed by Ofsted to know what to expect in order to prepare for inspection, look at the Ofsted inspection handbook for your remit or the inspection toolkit – use the search box if necessary - inspection handbooks and toolkit
  • Use the Excellence Gateway as a first ‘port of call’ when researching areas that you would like to improve. As well as the Ofsted-related area, simple word searches will bring you a variety of information about what others in the learning and skills sector are doing to improve their provision. This is particularly useful for any newer areas that you may wish to research.