Hinds ‘pleased’ with level 6 and 7 inspection approach but OfS can’t say what it is

The Office for Students can’t say how it will assess level 6 and 7 apprenticeships delivered at non-registered HE providers, even though it’s meant to start the work imminently.

As revealed by FE Week on Friday, the government has opted to give the job to the higher education regulator despite the Augar Review recommending it should be Ofsted.

In a letter published on Monday, education secretary Damian Hinds said he was “pleased” the OfS has “developed an approach to the quality assessment of level 6+ apprenticeships delivered by non-registered providers and that this will be implemented during this academic year”.

“This should result in a robust regime that measures high quality on and off-the-job training and tackles poor performance,” he added.

We will review the success of this approach later in the year

“You should work closely with Ofsted on this approach given their responsibilities for assurance of other apprenticeship provision and their experience in this area.”

FE Week asked the OfS for details of the assessment “approach” it has developed, such as whether it would be similar to Ofsted inspections, but it could not provide details.

A spokesperson could only say: “This only affects a small number of providers that offer higher-level apprenticeships that don’t contain either a full bachelor’s or master’s degree.

“We have committed to starting the first reviews over the summer and will focus on the largest providers first, ensuring that the maximum number of apprentices are captured. We will continue to work closely with Ofsted to benefit from their expertise in inspecting apprenticeship provision.”

Hinds’ letter said the outcomes of the OfS’ quality assessment reviews should be “transparent” and enable apprentices, employers and the DfE to identify where providers are not delivering high quality training.

“This will allow the department to take appropriate action where poor quality training is being delivered,” he added.

The DfE and OfS will review the approach later in the year to “make sure it is effective”.

FE Week was first to reveal in November that firms offering higher level apprenticeships without a prescribed HE qualification, such as a degree, had nobody checking their quality of delivery if they weren’t on the OfS’ register of higher education providers. Ofsted’s remit only extends to level 5.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman expressed her deep concern at the issue during an interview with FE Week in March, where she said: “I very much hope people will see the logic in us doing it.”

The OfS’ approach to regulating apprenticeship quality at providers on its register is very different to Ofsted’s.

The higher education watchdog employs a “risk-based approach to quality assurance defined by a high-quality threshold for entry and regulates all provision at all providers on the OfS Register,” a spokesperson previously told FE Week.

“Providers who are accepted on to the register will have met a high threshold for quality and standards and will be monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that quality is maintained.”

The Quality Assurance Agency then conducts external annual provider reviews of HE institutions for the OfS, including those that deliver apprenticeships.

But these are not official inspections of the type Ofsted conducts. They do not result in, for example, inspection reports with grades.