Ofsted praise environment in new inspection reports

“Two acres of peaceful gardens create a calm environment and help them relax, enabling all to concentrate fully on their studies.”

That might sound like a line of prose or a review for a relaxing country retreat – but it is in fact an excerpt from an Ofsted report under the new inspection framework.

Language has been one of the most significant changes to reports since the framework was rolled out in September.

Inspectors are more prominently noting the setting of the provider and what opportunities learners get outside the campus, alongside judgements on how well providers embed “knowledge” and set learners up for their next steps.

An Ofsted spokesperson explained that the new-style reports were intended to give a better “flavour” of what it was like for students at the provider.

In addition to the above example from People Solutions Training, Bedford College’s report observes how “community learning centres provide adult learners with a calm and purposeful learning environment”.

And the report for Walsall Studio School describes it as a “harmonious community”.

Similar language can also be seen in reports for schools, with one for Boldon School in the North East telling how “pupils get on well with one another and share a joke with their teachers”.

And in Lyme Community Primary School’s report, inspectors said: “One of the children gave me a ticket in the outdoor area used by nursery and reception children. The ticket allowed me to sit on a milk crate at the back of a makeshift bus. From this vantage point, I could see that the youngest children are happy at school.”

According to the new framework, lecturers “need to create an environment that allows the learner to focus on learning”.

Consequently, inspectors are bringing up the learning environment recommendations for how providers can improve, with Coventry College’s report pushing staff to  collaborate to “create a harmonious and calm working environment, inside and outside the college campuses”.

The National Union of Students welcomed Ofsted’s language changes.

“Student learning environments are changing spaces, gone are the four white walls and rows and rows of militantly-placed chairs,” said Juliana Mohammed Noor, the union’s vice president for FE.

“Enhancing learning environments can only bring a positive experience and colleges can be well placed to deliver provision innovatively.”

According to the new framework, inspectors will also be evaluating the extent to which the curriculum extends beyond the academic, technical or vocational.

Tyne Coast College was one provider to be commended after inspectors noted how learners and apprentices on maritime programmes have a uniform they wear “proudly” and call their lecturers’ “captain” to simulate life aboard a ship. 

And Coventry’s report logged how adults studying English as a second or foreign language had the chance to visit the local pantomime to become more confident in speaking and listening.

But its report added that apprentices “did not receive high-quality tutorial support to help them develop resilience, confidence and an in-depth understanding of how to prepare to be citizens of modern Britain”.

The new reports also reflect a greater emphasis on knowledge – a word used around 10 times in each report – and how learners use it to “succeed in life”, in line with the new inspection framework.

Inspection teams have written positively about two providers which run discussions on topics such as female success in male-dominated industries, euthanasia and cannabis.

Meanwhile CQM Training was told that it needed to improve how apprentices “recall topics and improve the storage and retrieval of their new knowledge”.

Ofsted’s changes will help parents to choose a college when their children leave school, according to John Jolly, chief executive of parent-teacher organisation Parentkind, who said: “We believe that it will help parents to get a broader understanding of the ethos of the college and highlight the ways in which this attribute can be achieved.”

Commenting on the language changes, an Ofsted spokesperson said: “We’ve made our inspection reports shorter and clearer, so that they can be more easily accessed and understood by different groups of people.

“As well as giving an independent view of how well a provider is performing, the new-style reports give a better flavour of what it’s like for learners.”