Ofsted’s new-style inspections have been much publicised, but some AELP members have been surprised by the new format. Simon Ashworth sets out what providers should expect and how to prepare.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has been hearing from its members that inspections under Ofsted’s new framework (EIF) was not what they expected and differed to what they had previously seen. Their comments echo those of Woodspeen Training in FE Week that the EIF represents “a pretty significant shift in focus”. So what are the main changes and how can providers be ready for them?

First, far less of the inspection process will be channelled through the nominee. The inspection team will instead work with the key individuals responsible for “curriculum areas”, which we believe is a really positive change.  

Second, Ofsted will review the provider’s curriculum – and that doesn’t simply mean programme content or materials. Inspectors now want to look at the whole end-to-end process of the provider’s programmes; hence the importance of having strong curriculum leads who are prepared for the new process.

Effective “curriculum sequencing” will be inspected to ensure that the provider’s programme has been designed, structured and delivered coherently and logically. This becomes even more important for programmes where there is now more teaching and less assessment.  

A good example to consider is how providers who deliver training to level 2 apprentices plan for and deliver not only the level 1 functional skills, but also the current requirement to work towards and at least take the level 2 functional skills test. The short answer is that it should not be an afterthought bolted on at the end.

Curriculum doesn’t simply mean programme content or materials

“Deep dive” inspections have now been added to the sector’s unrivalled liking for jargon. Much of the previous inspection activity was sometimes seen as operating in silos; for example inspectors would observe a class or hold a focus group with learners and report back on, say, teaching effectiveness. Under the deep dive regime, they may follow the journey of different learners all the way through their entire experience with the provider from recruitment to the preparation for end-point assessment.  

Data is less important, but from our discussions with Ofsted, providers should still be able to explain the reasons for their performance. With apprenticeships specifically, there is little comparable performance data for standards because of the move away from frameworks, so this is a sensible change. 

Nevertheless, one area of focus on is progression and destination data. A provider might have low achievement rates that look relatively poor on paper, but what is the story behind that? In the case of traineeships, qualification achievement rates might be low, because the learners left early as they got a job (one of the main aims of the programme) and didn’t have time to complete their maths and English qualifications as a result. Being able to articulate examples such as this is key to showing inspectors the whole picture.

On recognition of prior learning and off-the-job training, AELP is hearing reports of providers being misled and incorrectly advised to rip up their self-assessment reports (SARs) and quality improvement plans (QIPs) and rewrite these against the new EIF. Ofsted does not require this.

As providers move through their individual self-assessment cycle, they will naturally self-assess against the new framework. In the interim, it is worth considering the use of a positioning statement to sit alongside the SAR and QIP to help articulate to inspectors the transitional process and journey they are on.  

Remember that the SAR and the QIP are for the benefit of the provider and not a paper exercise to simply provide to Ofsted for inspection. Commensurately, Ofsted will place less emphasis on the accuracy of a SAR, but more on how effectively the provider uses the SAR and QIP to drive improvements. 

By understanding and preparing for these changes, a “deep dive” inspection should be limited to a few ripples rather than whipping up waves for providers.