• Mech Eng Matters

Learners unable to work as provider goes off the rails

Updated: Apr 19, 2018

Dozens left waiting for months for railway training after collapse of Amber Train

Written by: Julia Belgutay

More than 70 learners trained to work in the rail industry have been left unable to gain employment in the sector following the collapse of a training provider found to have used unqualified tutors.

The affected students completed a personal track safety course delivered by Amber Train, a training provider owned by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), equipping them with the so-called “competences” required to work on the UK rail network.

Tes understands that these included former prisoners trained under a contract operated by the LTE Group – the UK’s largest college group, which includes The Manchester College – which had subcontracted the provision to Amber Train.

However, the provider went into liquidation in July, meaning that a total of 77 learners lost their competences. In effect, this means they no longer hold a valid “Sentinel card”, which is needed for work in the rail industry.

In January, Amber Train was suspended by Network Rail at the request of the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) – the independent auditors of training and assessment for the rail industry – “due to the use of unassured/untrained trainers”.

This resulted in Amber Train being suspended from offering Sentinel training. Before it was reinspected, Amber Train withdrew its provision, “leaving the learners who had paid for the training without the relevant competence”, according to the NSAR.

The academy says that it had sought reassurances from Amber Train that the individuals affected would be able to regain their competences. But, five months on from Amber Train being liquidated, the individuals affected have not been offered any support back into training, Tes understands.

‘Incredibly popular’

Rail track qualifications are “incredibly popular” with prisoners, says Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust. “To hear that people who invested their time and hope in this course have been let down in this way, so close to Christmas, is appalling,” he adds. “There needs to be immediate work to offer supplementary training that ensures they can keep existing jobs or find new ones.”

The IMechE acquired Amber Train through its trading subsidiary, PEP Ltd, in November 2015. According to Companies House, the institution’s chief executive, Stephen Tetlow, is listed as the sole active director of Amber Train. According to the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s subcontracting register, as of 5 May Amber Train held contracts worth more than £850,000 in total, with Bournville College (£396,550) and West Nottinghamshire College (£459,333).

In a statement, IMechE says: “In the last few months we have uncovered historical practices undertaken by some individuals at Amber Train that have given rise to claims against the company. As a consequence, we have put Amber Train Ltd into liquidation and Leonard Curtis has been appointed as liquidator.” It refused to comment on claims that it had not supported learners back into training.

The LTE Group also declined to comment.

A Department for Education spokesperson says that, according to funding rules, “lead providers remain responsible for all of the provision they subcontract”.

This is not the first controversy to engulf the rail training industry this year. In July, UKRS Training was removed from the register of apprenticeships training providers after Tes informed the DfE that it was subject to an ongoing fraud investigation. A total of 12 individuals with links to UKRS Training, which delivers training for the railway industry, had been arrested by British Transport Police, 10 of whom on suspicion of “supplying articles to commit fraud”. A police spokesman says the individuals arrested have been released under investigation.

A subcontract ‘killing’?

The subcontracting of industry-specific courses is a practice common in further education, with some organisations subcontracting provision worth millions.

The “quality and oversight of training provided by subcontractors” is part of the remit of an ongoing inquiry into apprenticeships and skills training by the Commons Education Select Committee.

In January 2016, Tes reported that the 26 biggest providers that had published their management fees collectively retained £66 million in 2014-15 – more than a fifth of the funding that they were allocated by the former Skills Funding Agency (SFA) for delivering this provision.

The biggest provider, Learndirect – which this year was graded “inadequate” by Ofsted – was found to have top-sliced more than a third of the funding it received for its subcontracted provision.

Written by Julia Belgutay

This article appeared in the 22 December 2017 edition of Tes.


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