Recent Ofsted gradings reveal significant disparities for different types of FE (Further Education) provider. In Advanced’s recent online Ofsted Roundtable with Beej Kaczmarczyk and Tony Allen, we discussed the role of the organisation, how inspections vary from provider to provider, and whether fundamental changes were due.
A comparison of grading for most recent inspection outcomes reveals that FE colleges score well, with 14% getting ‘Outstanding’, 74% graded ‘Good’, just 9% ‘Requires Improvement’ and none as ‘Inadequate’. By contrast 20% of Independent Learning Providers (ITPs) scored ‘Requires Improvement’ and 5% ‘Inadequate’. Almost half (49%) of academies for 16–19-year-olds scored ‘Outstanding’, and 49% ‘Good’, with just 2% told ‘Requires Improvement’ and none, ‘Inadequate’.
Context is crucial
The devil is always in the detail though. It is very difficult to make a like-with-like comparison between different types of providers as there are multiple factors at play. A provider that has most of its 16–17-year-old learners spending the majority of their time in the workplace on apprenticeships faces quite different challenges to an independent provider with a high number of SEN learners, or those delivering GCSEs and functional skills. In order to be able to properly illustrate the situation for each provider, good diagnostic tools can help assess and benchmark learners at the start with effective monitoring and assessment, revealing actual progress more accurately.
While inspection reports may provide clues as to what is expected regarding curriculum and delivery, it is very difficult to have a common set of expectations across all the delivery formats. Reasons include:
- The challenge of applying the inspection framework to the new, online world post-Covid, particularly, how inspectors can form judgements around the learning experience of individuals who are receiving 100% online delivery. Some may find that online delivers exactly what they need, but this will depend on many factors including the course itself, the level, access to Wi-Fi and equipment, the motivation and engagement of the individual, IT competence of tutors and more.
- The standards themselves vary, making it difficult for inspectors to apply a broad brush to their conclusions. Tony offered the example of a provider delivering a standard in Veterinary Nursing. It was visited by four Ofsted inspectors who had no experience either in the veterinary sector, in the vet nurse profession or the standard itself. He argued that they were not in a position to be making judgements on the quality of the learning provision in that standard.
- Some apprenticeships such as adult social care may require more training time than others and therefore, will cost more. The equipment required to deliver training in the classroom may vary greatly in value and cost to the provider, both as an upfront cost and for maintenance and repairs, and expert industry tutors may cost more on an hourly basis depending on location.
- A GCSE pass grade in English and maths can be very blunt tool as an entry requirement for some courses, and providers may find that learners on some courses requires additional teaching before they can properly access the course. Funding is the same regardless and doesn’t reflect the needs of the individual or of the course itself. Again, effective initial diagnostic tools can make an important difference here, with tailored content and learning that helps providers to quickly and easily identify need and deliver the most appropriate content to learners from the start.
Safeguarding is another area that is complicated by the provider type and method of delivery. In some cases, learners are seen in college by the same tutors every day, who would quickly get to know them and be able to spot changes in behaviour and other indicators that all is not well. Some providers, including ITPs may not see the learners often, and they may interact with a number of tutors who do not therefore have sufficient contact time to form an impression of them and notice changes. Similarly, online learners are far less visible and more difficult for tutors to ‘read’ than those in the classroom.
Safeguarding can also be problematic when learners spend most of their time in the workplace, or under the supervision of sub-contractors, and this raises important questions about who has the responsibility for safeguarding. Arguably, it should fall to the organisation that has the most regular and frequent face to face contact, but currently it rests with the learning provider, regardless of context.
A change of purpose
In its current form, Ofsted is a quality assurance organisation, but some might argue it needs to incorporate both quality assurance and improvement. Potentially inspectors could shift towards being more consultative and arguably therefore, more helpful to providers by signposting them to others who demonstrate good practice. The idea of inspectors giving actual advice to help providers improve is rife with pitfalls though. If, for example one inspector recommended a specific course of action or change to a provider, that, once implemented, did not help them achieve the expected uplift in grading, the responsibility for that might lie with the original inspector.
Regardless of whether changes are made around Ofsted’s purpose and the way it implements its inspection framework, there are steps that FE providers can take to help themselves before and during visits. Using a designed-for-purpose learner management and organisation management tool can streamline processes, from onboarding to EPA (End Point Assessment). AI-powered assessments can help benchmark learner knowledge from the start and during the course, providing learning resources that build on existing competence, encourage engagement, and support the learner through a successful completion of EPA.
The data collected in a digital education platform gives the provider actionable insights to help them understand where problems lie, what their own strengths are and how to improve. This data also makes the inspection process much smoother, furnishing provider organisations with accurate and up to the minute information that clearly and incontrovertibly demonstrates their progress and successes for inspectors to see.
For more insights into tackling inspection and to ensure your organisation is best-equipped for Ofsted, visit our Outstanding Outcomes Content Hub to find our roundtable with Beej Kaczmarczyk & Tony Allen, as well as our very well received Ofsted masterclass series.