The new common inspection framework (CIF) represents a substantial shift, not only in its structure and application, but in its core reasoning and message.
The new chief inspector has made a clear statement of purpose — too many learners are receiving provision that is satisfactory and inadequate, and the new framework is specifically designed to not only contribute to raising standards, but as an imperative to do it more quickly.
The inspection’s chief tool, the CIF, gives inspectors more flexibility to focus on the core aspects of teaching, learning and assessment that have a direct impact on the experience of learners.
The framework is much simpler, with the removal of the plethora of judgements found in the previous frameworks.
Gone are limiting grades for safeguarding and equality and diversity, however in its place is the new “requires improvement” judgement, replacing the former satisfactory grading.
The “requires improvement” grade has much stronger reputational implications for providers, however I believe it presents a great opportunity to accelerate the pace at which providers address areas for improvement.
To do this, two things must happen. Firstly, inspectors must quickly get to grips with applying the new framework.
Some well-trodden inspection practices must be discarded and inspectors will have to demonstrate they can make key judgements against the critical aspects of teaching, learning and assessment in a broader sense.
They will have to rely less on historical data as the main source of evidence, instead making judgements about the experience of current learners, with reference to outcomes where appropriate.
It is likely that inspectors will spend more time following groups of learners, sampling a wider range of activities, such as self study time and tutorials to judge how effective this time in helping learners progress.
This will challenge inspectors during the early stages of working to the new CIF, but the opportunity now exists to explore in much greater detail the experience of learners across all aspects of the provision they receive.
Secondly, learning providers will have to interpret the core message of the new CIF, and quickly recognise that it represents a step change from previous inspection practice.
Essentially, the grade for teaching, learning and assessment can be considered as being the new limiting grade.
Colleges and other providers that aspire to be outstanding must now have outstanding teaching learning and assessment — therefore it follows that providers who consider this aspect of provision to be satisfactory must now declare it as “requiring improvement”.
The ability to focus on this aspect of provision, and their success in creating and implementing strategies to improve teaching and learning will be the single biggest factor in future inspection outcomes.
The two-day notice period for inspections has been clearly introduced to prevent stage-managed activities.
Schedules for visits, interviews and observation activities will be more fluid and often subject to change.
They will be less detailed and inspectors will have to work more proactively to ensure they can find alternative sources of evidence for learning.
Inspectors will grade more than just traditional observations — they will grade any activity where learning is evident.
This may be activities in the workplace that don’t necessarily involve the provider. Colleges and training providers need to recognise this.
Previous incarnations of the CIF took time to settle, for inspectors and providers alike, and it will be interesting to see how the early implementation of the new CIF takes shape.
It is clear however that Ofsted is determined to raise the bar.
If inspection outcomes can accurately articulate the quality of provision and what needs to take place to improve it, and providers are able to interpret and implement plans to address areas for improvement then I believe the new CIF presents an opportunity to genuinely raise standards throughout FE and the learning and skills sector.
David Sykes, director at The Skills Network