Paul Joyce, one of the inspectorate’s head skills honchos, lays out the thinking behind the two new forms of visit Ofsted will be making in the FE sector

Ofsted recently announced it would be conducting two new types of monitoring visit. The first, as announced by HM chief inspector Amanda Spielman last November, are monitoring visits to a sample of new apprenticeship providers. The second, announced in February, are monitoring visits to directly funded providers to look specifically at subcontracted provision.

The subcontractor monitoring visits were undertaken as part of an increased focus on this kind of provision, though we are also looking at it in more detail during both our full and short inspections. This reflects our corporate strategy, in which we are committed to ensuring that inspections have the right focus in order to really see what education and training learners are getting.

These monitoring visits focus on how the main contractor manages the quality of its subcontracted provision. We have published the first two of these monitoring visit reports; both found that the management of these subcontractors was not good enough.

When main providers lose sight of what is going on in the subcontracted provision, it can lead to problems with quality

Subcontracting is changing significantly, a fact which is, at least in part, linked to funding-rule changes and the apprenticeship levy. We do see some providers expanding their subcontracting, but on inspection we have also seen a number of providers drastically reducing and reorganising their subcontracted provision and sometimes even bringing the services back in-house.

When main providers lose sight of what is going on in the subcontracted provision, it can lead to problems with quality. Through our standard inspection process, we see that many subcontractors do a great job and have a positive and effective relationship with their main provider. We know that this is not always the case, however.

These monitoring visits are designed to look specifically at that relationship and at the management and quality of provision in subcontractors. The main provider is responsible for ensuring their learners get high-quality training which meets their needs. We are determined to expose any underperformance in subcontracted provision within the system.

We have also recently published the first three reports from our new provider monitoring visits, and more will be published in the coming weeks. These visits allow us to see if providers are on the right track. They aim to detect problems early, while taking into account that, as new providers, they are just getting started, so some teething problems will be likely.

These visits are not full inspections, and providers do not get an overall Ofsted grade. They are monitoring visits with progress judgements. Providers will then get a full inspection within the usual three-year period. The provider is judged to have either made sufficient, reasonable or insignificant progress against these themes:

How much progress have leaders made in ensuring that the provider is meeting all the requirements of successful apprenticeship provision?

What progress have leaders and managers made in ensuring that apprentices benefit from high-quality training that leads to positive outcomes for apprentices?

How much progress have leaders and managers made in ensuring that effective safeguarding arrangements are in place?

Our first three reports give a mixed picture.

There is no doubt that the Key6 report was disappointing. But it is important that we don’t over-interpret one result as a judgement on all new providers who are coming on stream as a result of the levy. If anything the Key6 report is a sign our robust approach to detecting underperformance early.

By contrast with Key6 Group, London College of Apprenticeship Training (LCoAT) has shown real strengths in leadership and engagement with employers, while Jigsaw Training was found to be making reasonable progress in all three areas.

It is vital that Ofsted acts to challenge the sector during this period of change. We will be doing what we can to ensure that these changes do what they are supposed to, namely deliver the high quality education and training that apprentices deserve.

Paul Joyce is Deputy Director of further education and skills at Ofsted