Unified CIF ‘not money-saving exercise’

Ofsted’s eight-week consultation on bringing an end to its independent FE and skills inspection regime comes to a close next month.

All education inspections would be “harmonised” under the proposed common inspection framework (CIF) for nurseries, schools and colleges from September next year, as revealed exclusively by FE Week at the start of August.

It is also proposing to halve the time between inspections of good FE and skills providers. Currently, good FE and skills providers face reinspection up to every six years if there are no concerns to trigger an earlier revisit — but Ofsted is looking at changing that to a “short inspection” up to every three years, unless concerns trigger one sooner.

The consultation further sets out proposals for four categories for judgements — leadership and management; teaching, learning and assessment; personal development, behaviour and welfare; and outcomes for children and learners.

With the consultation — available on www.ofsted.gov.uk — closing on December 5, Ofsted director of FE and skills Lorna Fitzjohn (pictured) spoke exclusively to FE Week to address concerns the proposals have raised within the sector.

What would the proposals mean for FE?

The proposals we have set out will be some of the most far-reaching reforms for education inspection in the last 25 years. At the heart of these changes are measures to help maintain and accelerate education standards in England.

We plan to introduce more frequent, but shorter inspections for good schools and FE and skills providers, with a clear focus on making sure that standards are staying high.

We are also planning to introduce a common inspection framework across all of our remits. The guidance in the handbook and the report structure will be adapted to suit FE providers. This will make it easier for employers and learners to compare providers and make informed choices.

What do you think is wrong with the way Ofsted inspects FE institutions at the moment? Is there any update on the negotiations about direct inspection of sub-contractors?

Ofsted has always played a vital role in promoting high standards so that the quality of provision improves for all learners. It is worth noting that more than nine out of ten providers said they were satisfied with how their recent inspection was carried out.

However, there is now a strong case for a more proportionate system where we move away from full inspections for good providers. Instead, we want a system based on professional dialogues between the inspectors and leaders, with a clear focus on whether the good standards are being maintained.

We understand that for some FE providers the use of sub-contractors counts for a substantial part of their provision. This is being looked at as part of the consultation and we are working to ensure that the quality of sub-contracted provision is included in any judgement we make about the provider.

Will there be a period of stability after these proposed changes are enacted?

Ofsted’s duty is to make sure that all learners receive the level of education and training that they deserve. For this reason, we are always reviewing the effectiveness of the way in which we inspect providers.

We understand that some teachers and trainers can feel uncertainty about what Ofsted looks for during inspection and this is something we want to avoid.

We will therefore be shortly publishing a ‘mythbusters’ document specifically aimed at those working in the FE and skills sector. This will dispel some of the rumours and hearsay about the inspection process and help sector workers to focus on what really matters — making sure they are giving learners the best education and training possible.

With the proposed move towards a single CIF, is there a danger that school specialists will inspect FE colleges, and vice-versa?

The move to a single inspection framework will in no way impact Ofsted’s ability to inspect providers. Those with experience in FE and skills will continue to inspect FE and skills providers.

A single framework will make it easier for providers, including University Technical Colleges, 16 to 19 academies and schools with sixth forms, to know what they are being judged against. We feel this will benefit the post-16 sector as a whole.

One proposal is to make clearer our judgements on the different types of provision. For example, someone reading an inspection report for a specific college would be able to clearly identify the quality of any apprenticeships, 16 to 19-year-old provision or adult courses which it offers.

Once the new framework is in place we will issue, as is normal practice, a handbook for FE inspectors on how to interpret the framework for the inspection of FE and skills so that it clearly relates to the sector and the different types of provision offered.

Will the proposals result in any job losses at Ofsted as departments inevitably move closer together?

The changes we are proposing are about maintaining and improving the quality of education and training in England. This is not a money-saving exercise.

We have carefully costed the new model in relation to inspection resource and are confident we can deliver within our existing budget.