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Ofsted and Apprenticeships: Ask The Expert with Tony Allen - Part 3

Ofsted and Apprenticeships: Ask The Expert with Tony Allen - Part 3

by OneAdvanced PR, Author

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. The final part of our blog series roundup covers all the questions asked that related to Strategy and Governance. 

Q: So, we have had our Ofsted monitoring visit and received three reasonable progress ratings. Does this mean that we are heading towards a good when it comes to full inspection?

First of all, at a monitoring visit when you get reasonable progress, it is a bit of an underwhelming statement, isn't it? I have known a number of providers who've made a real effort for the monitoring visit, and it's gone really well, and the inspectors have been happy. Everybody seems happy and yet you get the word ‘reasonable’, and it is hardly overwhelming, is it?

Do not underestimate the fact that reasonable progress is a good place to be at the end of a monitoring visit for the three areas: leadership, quality, and safeguarding… So, if you achieve three ‘reasonables’, that's good. However, when the full inspection takes place normally within the following two years (any time between a year or two years), do not be complacent, do not assume that because you achieved three ‘reasonables’, you’re automatically going to get a good.

If you look at Ofsted results, and I look at them frequently, there are quite a few providers who achieve three reasonables or even two reasonables and a significant who achieve  requires improvement at the full inspection. So, you need to really take notice of what the inspectors tell you after the monitoring visit. Coming back to the earlier question about the shadow nominee role, make sure that person is taking lots of notes, collecting lots of feedback, because 95% of the feedback you get from the inspection team will not be in your report. Reports these days are quite concise, quite short. It is everything else they tell you when they are there that you need to take note of and think about.

So, a good outcome from the monitoring visit is definitely not a time for complacency. You are clearly where Ofsted expect you to be at that moment in time, but it does not automatically mean that you are heading for a ‘good’. You need to keep the pressure on and particularly pay attention to those areas that they highlight where attention is needed.

Q: Our progress reviews need to be improved. How can we move away from a tick-box approach by our coaches? 

I spend a lot of time talking to training providers about progress reviews. Progress reviews are very important if you are to make a success of the journey that each learner embarks on. However, it is very easy to fall into a number of traps with progress reviews. One of the main ones is the tick-box trap. It is very easy to think when we do a progress review, that we have to talk about many different things each time... We have to talk about what progress they have made, we have to talk about what is in their off-the-job log and whether it is, from both a quality and compliance viewpoint, acceptable. We have to talk about safeguarding, we have to talk about Prevent, we have to talk about British values, we have to talk about careers, functional skills, et cetera, et cetera.

It is extremely easy for you to build a progress review template around that, that is nothing more than a series of boxes, boxes that have to be filled each time. That, to my mind, is not an effective progress review.

I have recently been working with a client, a large apprenticeship provider, looking at their progress reviews and how they complete them. Given what I saw, we've made some very significant changes. We have moved away from what was a tick-box process where, quite literally, the assessors would say “right, now I've got to talk to you about functional skills” or “now I've got to talk to you about safeguarding”. This is completely the sort of approach and attitude that you do not want in a progress review, but one that is entirely understandable when you end up with a tick box template.

Progress reviews need to be learner-centred, and therefore you need to try and move away from filling every box, and you need to be focusing on two or three key aspects. First of all, where did that learner start? What did their initial assessment, skills scan, prior learning tell us? Then how is that learner progressing? However frequently your progress reviews are, whether they are 4,6,8, or 12 weeks, make sure that the focus is on the progress that the learner is making… For example, if you do not talk about careers at one of the reviews because there is a much more important subject to talk about for that learner, then that is fine. You need to make sure, of course, during the apprenticeship, that the learner knows about their career opportunities, or that they can articulate issues around safeguarding, who they would go and speak to if they felt unsafe, etc... You do not have to cover all of these issues at every progress review. The focus of a progress review should be on the progress that the learner has made from their initial training plan… That is the key component of an apprenticeship programme, and you should be using your progress reviews to measure that. So, try to think a little more openly. Try to take the shackles off your assessors a little bit, move away from tick box.

However, it is important to say that you should not go to the other extreme, unless you have an exceptionally good team of assessors where you are able to give them a blank piece of paper and a pencil and say right, talk to that learner for an hour and tell me how they are progressing. That is the other extreme and would be quite a risky thing to do! There is a sensible middle ground which involves your assessors having a conversation with the learner, which is focused on their progress, and how the apprenticeship is enabling them to undertake their role better.

It is also worth mentioning there are tools that can help you enormously with this. For example, think about using transcription and recording. If you use transcription, assuming you are doing an online progress review, then your assessor doesn't have to try and write things down whilst they are talking. They can have a conversation on screen with that learner, and they can do more to make it meaningful because it's all being transcribed. If they also learn how to summarise frequently during the review, then they can use those summaries to cut and paste into the template.

If you use transcription and then if you also record the review on video, you have a really valuable resource to use in the future. For example, the employer can view and read what happened at the review if they could not attend. Ofsted inspectors will be able to see your reviews, and then, of course, your own internal IQA will have a valuable source of material to assess the quality of what is happening.

So, think seriously about using transcription and recording because that will really help you move away from a tick box culture.

Q: We deliver most of our eLearning online via video. We struggle when it comes to making learners have their cameras on. I know this is quite a challenge. I've come across this many times. Is this really important? And if so, how can we do it? 

Most providers deliver at least some of their learning by video. Making sure that learners always have their cameras on can be quite a challenge.

Some providers have tried the stick approach, where they have said to learners, you must have your camera on, and that is reinforced by a policy regarding the use of cameras. The policy may even say, if we have to warn you more than twice about your camera on, then we will not allow you in lectures and other similar sanctions. Whether you want to go that far, I am not sure. Let us just think about why it is good to have the camera on.

The obvious point is that you can see that the person's actually there. This is a critical issue for Ofsted. I have known a couple of inspections in the last year where Ofsted has really questioned the training provider about this because an inspector has sat in on an online learning session and seen half the cameras off and has said “how do you know that learner was even present, let alone engaged?” That is the first question. There are also potential safeguarding implications here, because if you can see somebody, then you have a much better chance of judging their physical and mental state, and how happy they are. From a general engagement piece, having the camera on is really important.

However, you also need to think about other ways of engaging learners. Sometimes there are practical reasons why you cannot have a camera on you. Your Wi-Fi might be so bad that actually you need to turn the video off just so that you can maintain the Wi-Fi contact through audio. In addition, there are some people who are acutely embarrassed by their backgrounds. That is not an excuse these days, because you can import backgrounds or blur your background. So, having the camera on is only part of assessing engagement. Make sure the tutors are regularly asking questions. I have had some really interesting conversations with tutors who seem frightened to direct questions at individuals. If you are worried about whether somebody is there or engaged, ask them a question. See if they have been listening, see if they have been paying attention. There are lots of engagement tools, attitude surveys at the end of lectures, spot surveys, all of that sort of thing, but I do believe that encouraging learners to have their camera on is something that you should do. You will never get 100% but try to make sure as many as possible have their cameras on.

With Smart Assessor, our smart rooms that our customers use for remote teaching and learning, quite often some of the things that they will do is they'll run polls or surveys that often put them into breakout rooms to help undertake activities during the session. Also, potentially at the end of the session, maybe provide them with a bit of an assessment to make sure that people have understood and retained the knowledge that they've been on that teaching and learning with.

4: In terms of governance in an ITP, should we have fully adopted the AELP code of governance?

The AELP code is a very, very good place to start. It’s an excellent document. However, I do know that sometimes smaller providers, when they read it, get a bit spooked and frightened by it.

You need to be careful with governance as an independent training provider. If you're a college, you're okay because you've got your statutory Board of Governors.  If you're an independent training provider, the first thing to say is that there is no set format for your governance arrangement, other than you should have something in place.  You should decide that you need to have some external perspective on your business. For one, Ofsted will expect to see that. Now, if you're a large provider with thousands of apprentices, you might decide you're going to have some form of external Advisory Board, that perhaps meets once a month, and challenges the senior team for three or four hours at a time. That's a good model if you are large. If you're a smaller provider with a few hundred learners, or even fewer, then the Board model may not an appropriate model for you.

As I have said, there is no formal laid down structure for governance. The AELP guidance is really good, and I would encourage you all to read it and look at it, but there is no formal structure around what is required. I work with a very small provider. They have 80 apprentices, and their only governance is me. I talk with them on a regular basis, every three or four weeks, and we talk things over, and we discuss how we can improve quality, compliance, and the running of the business. This particular provider is rated good by Ofsted. What was a particular delight for me, and their CEO, was that Ofsted praised the governance arrangements. As their governor, I know what's going on, because I have regular contact with them, and can therefore make a positive contribution. One of the things I will say is I get approached by providers who say, oh, we need to do something about our governance. Would you be interested? Is it all right if we just met four times a year for an hour? The answer to that is a clear ‘No’! To be an effective governor, firstly, I need to understand the business. I need to know what's going on. As a provider, what you have to remember is when you are inspected, Ofsted will want to talk to your governors or governor, and they will ask us lots of questions. Questions such as, what are the strengths of this organisation? What are the weaknesses? What have you, as a governor or governing board, actually done to improve things in this organisation? What do you know about their safeguarding arrangements? Now, if I'm only talking to you for an hour four times a year, I can't possibly answer any of those questions effectively. So, the governance has to be involved in depth and in detail for it to be effective.

When it does work, it can work really well. So, coming back to the question, yes, the AELP guidance is a great place to start, but each of you needs to think a little more broadly about how you might apply that foundation to your own business.   

Have you read our other Ofsted and Apprenticeships Ask The Expert blogs? 
Part 1 covered Compliance
Part 2 covered Ofsted and Inspections
Be sure to also keep an eye out for our upcoming Funding Ask The Expert blog series that will be released in 3 parts over the coming weeks!

If you are an apprenticeship provider and want to discover how Advanced can help you, why not check out our apprenticeship eportfolio?

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