Lorna Fitzjohn has taken over as Ofsted’s new director of FE and skills. She was previously deputy director for FE and ran operations in the Midlands for the watchdog. Here, FE Week reporter Freddie Whittaker asks Matthew Coffey’s successor a few questions as she begins in her new role.
Q: What are your priorities for your new role?
A: Ofsted’s last annual report highlighted reasons for optimism, with clear improvements in the FE sector, but we need to go much further and build on this achievement by addressing weaknesses that were also identified in the report. For instance, it highlighted that a high proportion of education and training in prisons is not good enough. We are taking measures to address this such as by carrying out improvement visits.
One of our national priorities is combating the variable quality of apprenticeship training. There are still too many providers who do not take into account the skills and employment needs of their local area and we need to work to ensure that there is stronger dialogue between employers and education providers.
The sector doesn’t stand still and we are taking a close look at the implementation of the new 16 to 19 study programmes, both in schools and FE, as well as the quality of teaching of English and mathematics.
Q: What will you do to improve Ofsted?
A: The effectiveness of Ofsted is quite obvious on a range of counts, whether judged by the colleges found to be inadequate or the impact of successive Annual Reports which have helped to determine the direction of government policy.
It is important to remember that more learners are now attending an FE provider that has been judged either good or outstanding, so we are seeing results in the sector, partly due to the role Ofsted inspections play in helping providers identify areas for improvement. We expect our improvement activities in relation to providers judged to require improvement to bear fruit.
However, we cannot be complacent. We will be reviewing how best to inspect good and outstanding FE and skills providers in future, just as we are reviewing how to inspect good and outstanding schools. We also continue to use inspections to publish and identify good practice that can be shared across all providers in the sector.
Q: What will you do to help the FE sector to overcome its obstacles around poor career advice in schools?
A: The government very recently published its updated guidance for schools on providing young people with careers advice. Ofsted welcomed the stronger focus on ensuring schools know what to do in providing careers advice and guidance for their students as well as the greater flexibility outlined in the guidance to help meet the needs of students through the involvement of employers, careers professionals and the wider sector.
Ofsted will continue to take into account the effectiveness of careers advice when it inspects providers. We expect these measures to ensure that young people get impartial advice and give due consideration to the vocational pathway to employment and success.
Q: The Ofsted complaints process has been criticised. What will you do about it?
A: Complaints are, and will be, upheld where the evidence suggests we have not met those standards. Furthermore, if someone complains through our complaints procedure and are not satisfied they may have recourse to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO).
I would argue that complaints play an important role in informing our inspection development. Any lessons to be learned will be taken into account in our inspection process.