Hull Business Training Centre this month became the first FE and skills independent learning provider to undergo Ofsted’s new short inspection. Johanna Rudd describes the experience.

Our last inspection was in January 2010 so we thought we might get the call before the new inspection methodologies and common inspection framework (Cif) came in.

It was mixed emotions for us when we passed September 1. There was obvious delight at the prospect of a short inspection, but also fear that this may result in two inspections — one short and one full — in the space of 15 working days.

Two inspections in that short time frame could be detrimental to a small business, not to mention the mental strain it could put our staff under. The new Cif was also a concern as we had no past reports to read to obtain a better understanding.

As we approached the end of the contract year, we did start to self-assess against the new Cif and the first draft of the self-assessment report (SAR) was produced.

In August, the two owners of HBTC simulated an inspection to test the validity of the new SAR. It was also good experience for our staff that hadn’t been part of an inspection before, as it reduced some of the fear associated with inspection.

The initial call with the lead took on a very similar format to previous inspections. The only real difference was that the lead inspector informed us of their key lines of enquiry, which were based upon our last inspection (both areas for improvement and strengths), areas identified from our most recently uploaded SAR and other areas such as Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) requirements.

The biggest surprise was how much the inspectors actually achieved in two days

This was our first short notice inspection so there seemed a lot to do in a very small timeframe — we had to collate all of the required information such as timetables, documentation etc. We also had to plan who from our organisation would be best to speak to the inspectors about each line of enquiry, which was difficult for us. As we are a small provider, this mainly involved two people which across only a two-day window was very difficult to fit in. This was made worse as the lead was keen for the inspectors to have the majority of these discussions on the first day so that they could start to formulate their thoughts and explore further the next day, plus anything else that might be emerging.

We prepared some notes that could be used for reference during these discussions — which after jumping from one line of enquiry straight to another through the day, proved invaluable.

I think the biggest surprise was how much the inspectors actually achieved in the two days. They visited a number of workplaces, spoke to a good number of learners and employers, held focus groups with a range of our staff and learners, observed a range of lessons and workbased activity, reviewed a variety of documentation and evidence — and that was on top of the in-depth discussions on the lines of enquiry with key staff.

It definitely felt that they didn’t really gain any less evidence within the two days, than they would’ve done in four days. This did take its toll on our staff, including myself, and I would imagine that it also took its toll on the inspectors too.

Despite this, as the interruption was contained to just two days it was easier for everyone to mentally deal with, and for the business to recover from the disruption afterwards. Also because it was so thorough, we did feel confident that they got to learn enough about us to make informed judgements.

However, after feeling very fortunate to have had a short inspection, this did turn into a vague sense of surprising disappointment. The inspectors identified some excellent practice during the inspection, and we are left wondering what a full report might have looked like for us against the new Cif, as opposed to the letter you get after a short inspection.