1 Young Street,
Sheffield S1 4UP
|Owner||Lloyds Development Capital|
Learndirect Ltd, stylised as learndirect, is a British training provider founded in 2000.
The company is owned by the private equity firm Lloyds Development Capital (LDC). Learndirect was formerly owned by the Ufi Charitable Trust, a not-for-profit organisation which sold Learndirect and its parent Ufi Limited to LDC in 2011. Ufi was created in 1998 to take forward HM Government's stated vision of a University for Industry in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and launched learndirect in 2000. Learndirect Scotland was the public-facing brand of the Scottish University for Industry, but has since become part of Skills Development Scotland as 'My World of Work'. Learndirect still operates in Scotland, and has offices in Glasgow.
Learndirect has a network of learning centres in England and Wales, and also runs some courses online. By 2006 the organisation was assisting half a million learners per year, and in January 2013 the cumulative number was in excess of 3.5 million. In 2004, an average of 65% of students completed their courses but this figure had improved to 92% by 2009. Learndirect participated as a "provider" in the UK government's mandatory unpaid work experience programme (commonly known as workfare, described by Learndirect and DWP as "Mandatory Work Activity") for those on Jobseeker's Allowance. Nearly the whole of Learndirect's revenue is from government contracts.
In March 2017, Ofsted inspectors gave the company the lowest possible rating, leading to Learndirect to seek court review and an injunction on the publication of this poor result. The court lifted the reporting restriction on 14 August 2017. Subsequently, the Department for Education stated that it would withdraw all funding from Learndirect, placing the future of the organisation at risk.
The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts undertook a review of the programme in 2005-2006; it found that the programme had received a total of £930 million in public funding, and was critical of the poor involvement of businesses, the high cost of marketing, and the low number of learners recorded as meeting their training objectives.
Ufi announced in late 2009 that it would be unable to sustain the large network of centres due to proposed budget cuts. An agreement was subsequently reached with the newly established Skills Funding Agency, allowing for a smaller network of centres, with the closure of some between July and August 2010.
Ufi were contracted by the Skills Funding Agency to deliver agreed targets in respect of qualifications achieved by learners, as well as a raft of quality, equality, and other indirect targets. However, following the May 2010 general election in which the Labour government was replaced by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, the future of Learndirect became unclear. Funding for English as a foreign or second language ceased in July 2010 through Learndirect centres.
According to The Independent, Ufi Ltd was included within a list compiled by the new government of quangos which it sought to abolish. The company and the Learndirect brand were then bought by LDC, part of Lloyds Banking Group, on 4 October 2011. Learndirect thus became an independent training provider competing in the open market and Ufi Ltd became a charitable trust. Learndirect Scotland became part of Skills Development Scotland and was renamed "My World of Work".
Between 2012 and 2015, Learndirect's profits declined 85%, while student failure rates doubled in its educational programmes, and achievement rates for its apprenticeships dropped below Ofsted's 62% minimum to qualify for grants. During this period, 84% of Learndirect's profits were redirected to its parent firm to pay for dividends, debt-servicing, and legal fees, as well as half a million pounds to sponsor the Marussia F1 racing team.
In March 2017, the Education & Skills Funding Agency (EFSA) issued a "notice of serious breach" against Learndirect for 70% of its apprenticeship services not meeting state-required minimums. This was followed in the same month by an inspection by Ofsted, with publication of the report delayed until after the 2017 snap election.
Learndirect sought judicial review of the report, on grounds that the sample size was insufficient and the lead inspector had predetermined the outcome; Learndirect requested and obtained a publishing injunction during the proceedings. In filings for this injunction, the managing director of Learndirect claimed that the Skills Funding Agency said it would serve three months notice on all its contracts if its Ofsted rating were to stand.
In August 2017, the High Court lifted the injunction and the report was published. Ofsted's overall effectiveness rating was 'Inadequate', with five areas rated 'Requires improvement' and two - Outcomes for learners and Apprenticeships - rated 'Inadequate'. Ofsted noted positive changes in the last year, leading to early signs of improvement.
The EFSA decided to continue funding Learndirect for the 2017/18 academic year, then withdraw funding from July 2018. Funding of Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd, paid by large employers through the Apprenticeship Levy (which began in April 2017) is not affected. The National Audit Office published an investigation into the monitoring, inspection and funding of Learndirect Ltd in December 2017.
According to BBC reports in September 2017, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee said Learndirect should face an investigation after its Ofsted rating. The committee's enquiry Funding of Learndirect Ltd began in January 2018.
Learndirect offers courses, training and employment services. In August 2017, the number of enrolled trainees was reported as 73,000.