Firstly I would like to thank FE Week for the opportunity to contribute to this regular column. I’m going to start off with than the recent announcement by Sir Michael Wilshaw, HMCI, about replacing the ‘satisfactory’ judgement with ‘requires improvement’ and our proposals to introduce ‘no-notice’ inspections for the FE and Skills sector.

The main driver of these proposals is a firm belief that everyone has a right to a good education or learning experience whatever their age. I am confident, from talking to many of you over the past few weeks, that we are ‘pushing at an open door’ in this respect.

Nearly three quarters of respondents to our first consultation agreed or strongly agreed that Ofsted should focus its resources more sharply on providers who were satisfactory or inadequate.

By way of context, it is important to remember around 70% of providers in the FE and skills sector are good or outstanding.

As noted in last year’s annual report, this is a slightly improved picture overall. However, around 1.2 million learners are being trained, educated and supported by providers who are not yet good. Ofsted is determined to raise standards, and through our revised re-inspection arrangements, we aim to significantly reduce the 1.2 million figure.

Some of the detailed comments I have received to date about replacing ‘satisfactory’ with ‘requires improvement’ have been about distinguishing between providers who may be on an upward trajectory and those who may be ‘stuck’. I agree this difference is really important and equally for the inspection report to be clear on this matter.

The proposal to re-inspect provision judged to require improvement more quickly would also enable those who are on the upward trajectory to demonstrate improvement sooner than is currently the case. We want these changes to support good leadership and management.

Around 1.2 million learners are being trained, educated and supported by providers who are not yet good”

I have every confidence that the sector will respond positively to this challenge. I will continue to share good practice where we see it and ensure that our survey reports have an even greater impact. We will continue to support as many sector conferences as we can and will ensure that we release inspection related data more frequently.

You may have spotted that we have just this week published our quarterly statistics for learning and skills. Please do take a look on our website.

There are very few places I go at the moment where the topic of no-notice inspection doesn’t come up.

Ofsted is very familiar with the concept of no-notice inspections. Indeed, in the learning and skills directorate we currently have a programme of unannounced inspections for prisons and for our welfare and duty of care inspections of the MoD.

The challenge to the FE and skills sector, from my perspective, is about the logistics of ensuring inspectors are able to base their judgements on evidence gathered from a representative sample of the whole provision.

We want everyone to be 100 per cent confident that our inspectors are seeing things as they really are, and we don’t want providers wasting time preparing for inspections.

For that reason we are currently testing out the logistical challenges and reviewing the benefits of no-notice inspections through a series of pilot inspections.

The first such inspection commenced this week. I can assure you we certainly didn’t make a call beforehand to check that it was a ‘convenient time to call!’ I await the results of the pilots with an open mind, but again, I urge you to make your views known through the consultation – please head over to www.ofsted.gov.uk.

Matthew Coffey, National Director
of Learning and Skills for Ofsted.