Ofsted will increase its focus on management and quality in subcontracting, according to its most senior director for FE and skills.
The letter is being sent out today by Paul Joyce, with new “sample based” monitoring visits on the horizon.
“This letter is to inform you that Ofsted will be increasing its focus on the management and quality of subcontracted provision on its inspections with effect from February 12, 2018,” he writes.
“We will do this primarily through our regular inspections of directly funded providers, as they are accountable for ensuring the quality of provision delivered by any subcontractors they choose to use.”
Inspection reports will, where relevant, contain “more detail about the quality and management of subcontracted provision and may refer to named subcontractors in the body of the report”.
Ofsted will be “undertaking a sample of risk-based monitoring visits to directly funded providers to look specifically at the management and quality of subcontracted provision for specific subcontractors”.
These monitoring visits will focus solely on provision delivered by the subcontractors, he added.
“Her Majesty’s chief inspector is concerned that all education and training provision should be ‘good’ or better, including provision that is subcontracted.
“Some recent inspections have underlined that poor management of subcontracted education and training can be a key reason for poor quality provision.
“You will wish to inform any subcontractors you have of this increased focus on subcontracted provision and the form it may take in terms of inspection and monitoring visits. To that end, we recommend that you forward this letter to them.”
There has been an increasing focus on how Ofsted monitors subcontracting in recent months.
The chair of the Commons education committee called last November for a “wholesale review” into why Ofsted had not yet inspected a single subcontractor more than a year after the rules changed.
Robert Halfon, a former skills minister, was speaking days after chief inspector Amanda Spielman admitted that she too was worried by this lack of action.
“We need a wholesale review into subcontracting and whether it enhances or curtails quality apprenticeships,” he told FE Week.
“I strongly believe that Ofsted needs to make the inspection of subcontractors a priority.”
It is “wrong that so many subcontractors are not inspected”, he continued, as it is hard to know otherwise whether apprentices get the quality of training “they deserve”.
The rules appeared to change in September last year, when Ofsted inserted a line into its handbook to emphasise that it “reserves the right to inspect and grade any subcontractor and its provision as a separate entity”.
Mr Joyce also explained in today’s letter that the extra efforts about to be ploughed into keeping watch over subcontracting standards “may entail additional inspection resource”, especially on inspections where the directly funded provider uses multiple subcontractors.
That could help strengthen Ofsted’s requests for more funding.
There are growing worries about the extra strain on Ofsted’s limited resources, through the massive expansion in the number of approved apprenticeship providers.
The government increased the size of the register of apprenticeship training providers by more than 350 last week. It means the number of apprenticeship providers now in scope for Ofsted inspection, assuming the vast majority recruit level two and three apprentices, has more than doubled since the levy reforms were introduced last April.
Ms Spielman has repeatedly warned of the “challenge” faced by the education watchdog following the influx of new training providers who deliver apprenticeships.