In our first ‘Ask The Expert’ webinar, we had industry expert Tony Allen sit down with Danny Taylor and answer your questions around Ofsted and Apprenticeships. Part two of our blog series roundup covers all the questions asked that related to Ofsted and Inspections.
Q: Ofsted now allows a second to the official nominee. What benefit can this give to inspection if they cannot speak in the feedback meetings but simply take notes?
To provide some background on this, Ofsted have now said that you can have a second nominee. A second, or shadow, nominee isn't allowed to interact with the inspectors. For example, when there are meetings with the inspectors, and that's typically at the end of each day and first thing the following morning, it's the nominee's role to go in, talk to the inspectors, listen to the feedback, present additional evidence, argue the case, and generally represent the interests of the provider.
The role of the shadow is really to make notes, to be there and to write down everything that is said. Now I do think that is an especially useful role, because it is very difficult to be in a meeting with an inspector and the inspection team, hearing lots and lots of feedback, lots of different views, lots of thoughts, lots of things about what they think, what they've heard from learners and employers, and to listen to that properly and be writing it down at the same time. That takes a particular skill, which I would go as far as to suggest not many of us have. So having that second person, whose role it is purely to take notes, allows the nominee to concentrate on what is being said without having to worry about writing it down to respond. So, there is a very positive use for the shadow nominee, and I think it's a great idea. Having seen it work in an inspection back in June, I think it's a positive step.
Q: Now that traineeship contracts have finished, will Ofsted still look into the aspects linked to traineeships in their monitoring visits whilst you continue to have trainees?
If you have still got any trainees when you are inspected, then the answer is yes. If you don't have any trainees when you're inspected, then no, because unlike auditors, Ofsted will focus on the here and now. The inspectors will focus on the learners you have on the programme at the time of the inspection.
Q: How much focus will Ofsted place on training plans and details of off-the-job logs for apprentices?
I hope you've got the message that I think these are really important already, because that first training plan is the foundation stone as to where the learner starts. You need to know where they are starting from. Ofsted will say to you “okay, how do you know your learners are progressing?” and you'll say, “they're doing their off-the-job and they're passing their exams” and they'll say “no, no, no, no, how do you know that they're progressing?”. Well, to know if anything is progressing, or moving forward, you need to know the start point. You need to know the start point for all of your learners. Then, through your progress reviews, you need to be looking and measuring how they are progressing. Having accurate training plans is important. People often confuse their usage and link them just to funding compliance. However, their principal use is around learner progression. For example, it is perfectly possible to have a learner who is out of funding, but who is on target. Let me explain how that is possible.
If they are out of funding, they've gone past their planned end date by definition. They are still in learning. So how can they be on target? Well, I accept they are not on their original target, but if you are using training plans effectively, they should have a revised training plan, a new structure, a new programme and it is perfectly possible for them to be on target with their new plan.
They are not working towards their original plan because they are out of funding. But if they are still in learning then they should have a new training plan. If they are on target with the new plan, then an Ofsted inspector will accept that you can have out of funded learners who are nonetheless now on target, as you have set them a new programme and they are on track with that new programme.
Q: Do Ofsted speak to learners and employers as part of the inspection, is that a random process, and how can you plan for something like that?
Increasingly these days, Ofsted place massive store on what learners and employers say. A specific example who I came across was inspected - they have several thousand apprentices on programme and, essentially, Ofsted based their findings on speaking to originally five learners and then extended that to speak to another group of five learners. These 10 learners had a significant influence on what was said in the report. Now I'm not saying that's typical or common, but that's what's happened. Ofsted will come to your inspection with the attitude surveys from learners and employers that are on the government website. They will look at that and they will say “we see your employers rate you as good because they've given you three out four stars”. You, therefore, need to be regularly having a look at the information on that site, because it’s amazing the number of providers who never look at it. As I have said, Ofsted and the DfE use that information to form judgements about what your learners and employers think about you.
How can you prepare for what learners and employers are going to say about you? Doing your own surveys, of course, will be really important because you need to know what people are saying. However, don't be frightened of prepping your learners and employers by saying to them, look, at some point in the next six months we're likely to be inspected by Ofsted. They could well want to talk to you and these are the sort of questions they might ask. Give your learners and your employers that sort of information as far in advance as you can to start to get them thinking and engaging.
Ultimately you want them to say the right things about you. Ofsted will choose those learners. Ofsted will usually say, let's have your learner list, let's have your employer list. We'll decide who you're going to talk to, but inevitably some of those learners won't be available, some of those employers won't be available. What often happens is that Ofsted will then say, can you choose? These five aren't available so please choose five more.
So often during the inspection you do get the chance to put in front of Ofsted learners and employers who you want them to talk to, rather than people they pick at random.
Q: Do inspectors use the information provided in the Apprenticeship Accountability Framework, which is still in beta?
In short, yes, the ESFA shares with Ofsted the outcomes of the Accountability Framework, so Ofsted will therefore have access to that. It is quite interesting about beta government systems, because I went on one earlier this year, which I'd used at least seven years previously and it still said it was in beta. So, I'm not sure. I'm not sure they ever move them out of beta. Some of them, but I don't think the beta point makes any difference if I'm honest. But the answer to the question is yes, inspectors have access and will refer to the Apprenticeship Accountability Framework.
In fact, and again, for those of you who have been inspected recently, you will know this. You should never try to bombard inspectors with a lot of your own data because they are naturally sceptical about what a provider says from a data viewpoint.
They will come not only with your most recent QAR data but also the other information around withdrawals, OOFs and the other information that's in the accountability framework. They will take notice. Don't worry about the fact it's only in beta.
Q: Is it a requirement for progress reviews to be undertaken by qualified assessors/industry experts.
My answer to that question would be, in an ideal world, yes, you will want people who are technically competent because it helps. You will want people who are also relatively good when it comes to coaching and mentoring. Now in my experience, those people do not grow on trees because in a lot of sectors people are either technical experts or they're good coaches and mentors and there aren't many of them that are good at both.
So, if you have what I describe as a single model in this approach, providers often say to me, “should I recruit a technical expert and train them to be an assessor or should I recruit an assessor and try to give them some sort of technical knowledge”. To be honest, in some markets you often don't have a lot of choice because it's very difficult to recruit technical experts. Pay is usually the reason why they could earn a lot more doing something other than working in the apprenticeship space. Increasingly, I find what providers are doing is that they are separating their tutors and assessors into two different job roles. So that you have the technical experts who teach and lecture the input and are there if necessary to answer technical questions from apprentices. Then you have people who are the coaches and mentors, who are responsible for the learner's progress and who are the learner's contact, completing their reviews. They are not technical experts. They do not stand in front of a camera or stand in front of a group of students and teach them the knowledge, that's not their job. Increasingly in my experience, providers are separating those two roles because it's easier to recruit, and you have a dedicated skill set applying to the technical input, and separate one to the coaching/assessing.
To come back to the question specifically, is there a requirement? No. Nowhere is it laid down that you have to have assessors trained to a specific level. It's clearly good practice that you would want correctly trained people in your business. You will want people who are good assessors. So having them trained to level 3, level 4, is clearly a benefit, but not a requirement.
Have you read our first Apprenticeships Ask The Expert blog covering Compliance?
Be sure to also keep an eye out for our third upcoming Ofsted & Apprenticeships Ask the Expert blog that we will be publishing very soon.
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