Confirmed: DfE sets out plan for Ofsted to take on degree apprenticeships

Ofsted will be handed powers to inspect level 6 and 7 apprenticeships from 1 April 2021, education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.

As revealed by FE Week earlier this month, the education watchdog will soon become the regulator for all apprenticeships for the first time.

Until now, Ofsted’s remit has only extended up to level 5, while the Office for Students has held responsibility for overseeing higher-level apprenticeships.

In a letter to chief inspector Amanda Spielman today, Williamson said this change will “ensure consistency and parity in quality standards across apprenticeships, so that employers and apprentices can have confidence that apprenticeship training is subject to a consistent and rigorous approach to quality assurance, regardless of provider type or the level of the apprenticeship”.

He also urged Ofsted to build capacity and capability for taking on this new responsibility by recruiting “additional inspectors with suitable expertise including knowledge and experience of higher education, in addition to the upskilling of Ofsted’s existing inspector workforce where this is required”.

An Ofsted spokesperson said the inspectorate is “very pleased” to take on new responsibility for inspecting the quality of higher and degree-level apprenticeships, which will “ensure consistency in quality standards across apprenticeships at all levels”.

The spokesperson also confirmed Ofsted will recruit new inspectors with expertise in higher education and train existing inspectors “so that inspections and visits take into account the context in which training is delivered”.

The watchdog’s new role mean it will soon be able to inspect all universities with apprenticeship provision, including the likes of Cambridge.

While university membership organisations MillionPlus and the University Vocational Awards Council have both voiced serious concerns about this move, the Russell Group is yet to pour cold water over it.

 

Gavin Williamson’s letter to Amanda Spielman in full:

As you are aware, it is a priority for the Department to ensure that quality is embedded at the heart of apprenticeships. This has been a key focus of our reforms, driving up the quality of apprenticeships in order to ensure that they better meet the skills needs of employers.

It is essential that we maintain momentum so that every apprenticeship provides the high-quality work-based training necessary to meet the needs of employers and support individuals to progress in their careers. This is more important than ever it we are to maximise the potential of apprenticeships, including higher and degree level apprenticeships, in supporting economic recovery from COVID-19.

I am clear that every apprentice and employer deserves a quality experience from their apprenticeship training provider. It is therefore vital that there is a consistent approach to quality assurance across apprenticeships.

To enable this, following careful consideration the Department has decided to accept the Augar Review’s recommendation that Ofsted become the single body for the inspection of apprenticeship training at all levels.

This change will ensure consistency and parity in quality standards across apprenticeships, so that employers and apprentices can have confidence that apprenticeship training is subject to a consistent and rigorous approach to quality assurance, regardless of provider type or the level of the apprenticeship.

Therefore, I am writing to inform you that from 1 April 2021, Ofsted will become the single body responsible for the inspection of apprenticeship training provision at all levels. This includes responsibility for provision at levels 6 and 7 (both degree and non-degree), in addition to Qfsted’s existing responsibilities at levels 2 to 5. In the case of apprenticeship providers delivering higher education as part of an apprenticeship standard, the Office for Students will continue to provide Ofsted with relevant information to inform inspection judgements.

Under this change, the Education and Skills Funding Agency will continue to regulate all apprenticeship providers via its management of providers on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers. The ESFA will use information provided by Ofsted to manage providers on RoATP, intervening to suspend starts or remove a provider from RoATP where necessary, as set out in existing policy. The OfS will continue to regulate higher education and will consider whether the outcome of an Qfsted inspection raises any wider concerns about quality.

Apprenticeships at levels 6 and 7 are an important part of our education and skills system, supporting productivity and social mobility. They provide people of all backgrounds with a choice of high-value vocational training alongside traditional academic routes and support individuals to pursue fulfilling careers. It is important that this change is implemented effectively in a way that supports the continued growth of these important apprenticeships.

I therefore expect Ofsted to build, where necessary, capacity and capability for taking on this new responsibility. This should include the recruitment of additional inspectors with suitable expertise including knowledge and experience of higher education, in addition to the upskilling of Ofsted’s existing inspector workforce where this is required.

Ofsted should also work closely with my officials and the Office for Students in preparing the apprenticeships sector for this change, particularly (although not limited to) those providers who are not already familiar with Otsted inspection. I expect Ofsted to work collaboratively to ensure that the circumstances of the sector are fully understood. Ofsted should consider whether any further action is required ahead of taking on this responsibility, such as reviewing its further education and skills inspection handbook.