Toni Pearce, vice president FE at the National Union of Students adds her voice of support to Ofsted’s new website.
It is welcome that Ofsted has recognised the need to review its methods for consulting learners. Further education is rapidly changing and the National Union of Students has been lobbying for a long time for learners, as the primary stakeholders in the sector, to be involved in quality improvement.
Arrangements for involving the student voice in the direction of education have become more formalised to ensure that learners can experience the same benefits across providers. As a result, greater emphasis has been placed on closing the gap between student representation and the decisions resulting from student input.
Recognising the importance of informal links between students and staff has also become a crucial element in ensuring the involvement of active learners in both planning and decision-making.
Although learners have had the opportunity to communicate with inspectors, through email and in person, for a number of years, we have not been satisfied that the opportunity to do so was open to everyone.
Ofsted’s Learner View site represents an opportunity for the student voice to become properly embedded into inspection processes – something that is particularly important as we move towards more ‘light touch’ inspections, and where continuous audit of provision will be crucial in ensuring that learners get a fair deal.
Learner View, from the union’s viewpoint, therefore is an interesting and helpful development. It’s encouraging that Ofsted have made further steps to engage learners in the evaluation and inspection of their provision, particularly by providing online and accessible tools to support them to do so.
The Learner View website has the scope to revolutionise the way that students give feedback on their experience”
The union worked extensively with Ofsted in the formation of the new common inspection framework and the Learner View tool. It is exciting to see the highest level of the sector taking seriously the views and opinions of students.
It is particularly welcome that Learner View will be open continuously to contributions from every learner, whatever their age and whether or not their college or learning provider is being inspected – and that data will be made available online.
The ability to see ‘live’ data on the student views of any given provider is a big step forward for transparency in the sector. It is great to see Ofsted take such a bold move. These are important steps towards protecting all learners against poor provision.
Learner View will have an interesting introduction and may well receive a varied reaction and initial take-up. It is important to remember that the success of this and other learner voice strategies rely heavily on the emphasis placed on student engagement from the provider. Learner View alone is not a panacea.
However, if properly implemented alongside investment and support from providers, it does have the scope to revolutionise the way that students give feedback on their experience.
This new tool has the potential to recognise rapid change in the further education sector by supporting the engagement of all sorts of learners from different backgrounds and disciplines who might not have the opportunity to feed into regular inspection practices – apprentices, distance learners, evening students and mature students. That expansion can only be positive.
Combining recognition of the diversity of the further education provision and of the student body with the imperative to engage students in their education suggests that the Learner Voice could succeed.