More than one nominee, up-to-date information, and actively seeking out views of students and staff is critical says college principal, Michele Sutton. 

I received a telephone call one Friday afternoon when I was driving from Bradford to Manchester. It was from an Ofsted inspector who started the conversation with: “I know this could be a long shot, but would you take part in a no-notice pilot inspection?”

I wanted to speak to our nominee, but she was on a business visit to India with the Association of Colleges (one of the issues to be considered — more later).

Eventually, we decided to go ahead. The outcomes would be unpublished and confidential, so we saw it as providing somewhere in the region of £60,000-worth of free consultancy.

There were no big surprises when the inspectors came because the focus was still very much on the impact on learning. However, there were far more observations in curriculum areas than in the past — an average of 12 to 15 — and it was from this activity that inspectors were led to other lines of enquiry.

We felt that we were ready, although a little apprehensive about how the operational details, such as rooms, class timetables, identification of areas not in scope, would be organised to our usual high standards with no notice.

But we managed  — and felt that the inspectors found this process more difficult than us. Teaching staff reported that they felt much less stressed compared with previous inspection regimes.

Keep as much information as possible online and easily accessible”

We learned a great deal. Rather than inspectors staying in their base rooms, we took them to where the evidence was held, which meant that they saw more of staffrooms and business support offices. And they spoke to students — lots of them — in all types of locations, not just in classrooms or pre-arranged meetings.

The unofficial limiting grade for teaching, learning and assessment will mean a change of focus for providers away from sole emphasis on success rates, while the new focus on performance management should lead to improved teaching, learning and assessment. Learner, parent and employer views also have much more prominence.

The new regime could have a major impact on inspection grades in the sector as it could give the impression that standards are falling when it is actually the inspection methodology that has changed.

The new common inspection framework (CIF) will mean many colleges moving to no-notice observations of teaching staff — many have already taken this step.

Our advice to colleges preparing for an inspection under the new CIF is to have more than one trained nominee (remember India), keep as much information as possible online and easily accessible across the institution, ensure a good version control is in place and ensure there is full understanding of the quality of any subcontracting arrangements.

It would also be wise to keep public course information up to date as inspectors will use it for information before they arrive, ensure that staff keep student tracking and monitoring up to date, preferably on-line, and keep the latest self-assessment report and an updated quality improvement plan on the provider gateway. And if there have been significant changes since the self-assessment was published  — for example, failing provision that has now improved — add an update to the self-assessment report.

Actively seek your stakeholders’ — students, parents, employers — views in a range of ways and then make sure that you tell them what you’ve done as a result of their feedback.

Keep your staff as fully informed as possible, before, during and after the inspection.

You need to encourage a different mind-set to ensure that you and your colleagues are always prepared should the inspector ring on a Thursday morning to tell you they will be there next Monday.

Michele Sutton OBE is principal of Bradford College