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August 14, 2017

FE Week successfully challenges training giant Learndirect’s legal gag on revealing damning Ofsted report

By Dominic Ponsford

Further education magazine FE Week has won a legal battle with the UK’s largest training provider allowing it to reveal details of a damning Ofsted report.

Private equity-owned Learndirect has some 1,600 staff providing training to 70,000 learners. It was visited by Ofsted inspectors in March who found it was “inadequate” giving it the lowest possible rating of 4.

On 8 June, FE Week reported that Learndirect had made a judicial review application to challenge the then unpublished Ofsted report.

FE Week reported this, quoting the Ofsted press office, only to take the story down when Learndirect said there were reporting restrictions in place.

On 28 July, FE Week attended the first day of the judicial review hearing and published a report which did not identify Learndirect. The training giant nonetheless obtained an interim injunction forcing the removal of the story from the FE Week website.

Lawyers for Learndirect also threatened criminal sanctions against FE Week saying in a letter to the publisher: “We write to put you on notice that our Counsel will bring this matter to the attention of The Hon. Mr Justice King on Monday morning and submit that contempt of Court has taken place.

“Additionally, we will invite the Judge to order that sanctions be imposed (which you will be aware include imprisonment or a fine for those found to be in contempt of Court).”

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On day two of the judicial review hearing, FE Week editor Nick Linford attended and was told he would have to make a formal submission to get the reporting restriction lifted.

The judicial review judgment was issued on 4 August giving Learndirect until today (August 14) to appeal the matter. FE Week submitted legal argument explaining why it should be allowed to cover the story in full.

Today the reporting restriction was finally lifted allowing FE Week, and the Financial Times who it has partnered with on the investigation, to report the story in full.

FE Week editor has spent more than £6,000 challenging Learndirect’s efforts to curb its reporting.

Editor and founder Nick Linford said: “I’m delighted to have successfully fought to have the high court injunction lifted and in doing so ensure freedom of the press is taken seriously.

“Learndirect not only tried to silence us, their lawyers even threatened us with contempt of court proceeding, a criminal charge. The judge concluded there was no contempt to consider and Learndirect also lost their judicial review.

“It was the right result in the end and it’s been brilliant to work on the investigation with the Financial Times.”

FE Week editor Nick Linford pictured with managing director Shane Mann.

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