Lorna Fitzjohn outlines key elements of the new unified common inspection framework that will be in effect from September.

Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw late last month outlined to attendees at Ofsted’s Future of Education Inspection conference in London details on how we will be changing the way we inspect early years, schools and FE providers.

These changes, beginning in September, will be some of the most significant since Ofsted’s inception more than 20 years ago.

While one of our goals is to simplify how we inspect and report across our remits, there are some notable specific changes for the FE sector.

Firstly, Ofsted has published its new common inspection framework, which will apply to all the remits mentioned above. Our aim here is to make it easier for parents, learners and employers to pick up an Ofsted report and understand it, regardless of the provision or remit it covers.

Seven out of every ten Ofsted inspectors will be a serving practitioner

One of the concerns I have heard from the sector over this approach is whether a common framework can account for the often complex and varied FE providers without over-generalising.

In particular, some have expressed concern over the new key judgement regarding the ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’ of learners.

Through this judgement we will assess how well learners develop the skills they need for their next step — including things like strong careers guidance and work experience — and how well they are developing the attitudes and behaviours needed for future learning and employment.

This is not just an attempt to bring inspections in line with those in schools; it is highly relevant to the sector.

Secondly, Ofsted will be altering the way it inspects good schools and FE providers, moving to a process of shorter but more frequent inspections.

All providers currently rated as ‘good’ will receive a short inspection approximately every three years. These will be led by Her Majesty’s Inspector (HMI) and will last for one or two days. During the visit inspectors will focus on answering two key questions — is the provider still good? and is safeguarding effective?

All inspections will begin from the same starting point — that the provider remains good — and will work from there.

At the end of the inspection, the inspector will write to the provider to confirm they are still good. If inspectors see signs that the provider has either improved or declined, then it will be converted into a full inspection.

We are also bringing in some changes which are sector-specific, including the decision to no longer grade observed learning sessions. This approach will bring FE inspections in line with that of schools.

I acknowledge that, where the approach is popular with schools, reaction has been more mixed for those working in FE. We have stressed to schools that we don’t grade individual teachers or their lessons and we feel it only right that we make this clear to the FE sector as well.

We know that some providers, particularly large colleges, have used grading for individual sessions and they believe it to be valuable in evaluating the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. That they do this is the leaders’ decision — we do not condone or condemn this practice.

I would like to end by commending the work of the FE sector to date. Teachers, trainers and lecturers are constantly being asked to improve and Ofsted needs to do the same. This is why we are now bringing inspections in-house. This decision will mean that, from September, seven out of every ten Ofsted inspectors will be a serving practitioner.

Having this experience on our inspection teams will be a benefit to both Ofsted and the sector.

I hope some of the details I have set out here explain why we have taken these decisions and also help to alleviate any concerns some may have about the changes. We are confident the changes we are making, coupled with the commitment and drive of the FE sector, will help to raise standards across England.