Ofsted will need to prove it can handle the higher levels if they are to inspect all apprenticeships, writes Adrian Anderson.

Let me start by saying that universities have nothing to fear from an appropriate Ofsted inspection system. Universities are committed to high-quality delivery and have an excellent track record in delivering and accrediting work-based programmes that accredit occupational competence.

The best example is a nursing degree, where a degree acts as the licence to practise for what is the most pressing skills shortage occupation in the UK labour market.

UVAC has, for some time, opposed Ofsted inspection of degree apprenticeship. Our reasons are straightforward.

Universities already, and will continue to, operate under internationally recognised quality assurance systems, to deliver and accredit programmes that recognise professional occupational competence.

We have also questioned Ofsted expertise and ethos. If Ofsted inspection of degree apprenticeship is introduced and is to support the government’s apprenticeship reforms, there are three issues that need to be tackled.

Ofsted’s expertise

Ofsted’s expertise in apprenticeship has been primarily developed on the basis of levels 2 and 3 apprenticeships.

Apprenticeship has changed and quality assuring a level 6 registered nurse (where the Nursing Midwifery Council has already approved the higher education institution to deliver) or level 7 architect degree apprenticeship (fully accredited by the Royal Institute of British Architects and Architects Registration Board) is a very different proposition from inspecting a retail, business administration or customer service apprenticeship followed by a 17-year-old. The Department for Education needs to ask Ofsted to outline, as a matter of urgency, how it intends to review and revise its inspection process, so it is appropriate for degree apprenticeship provision, and what plans it has to recruit senior managers with higher education experience and expertise and, of course, new inspectors.

Ofsted’s ethos

Ofsted is going to have to rapidly shed its reputation as an organisation that wants to prioritise lower-level apprenticeships for school leavers and presumably restrict the ability of, say, NHS trusts and police forces to use level 6 and 7 apprenticeships to train the nurses, police constables and managers they need.

Post-Covid 19, apprenticeship will increasingly focus on the jobs needed in a high productivity economy.

This will mean far more provision at levels 4 to 7 and less level 2 provision.

Ofsted will presumably fully support the secretary of state’s desire for universities to expand degree apprenticeship provision.

Employers, professional bodies, regulators and, I suspect, some key government departments, in addition to universities, will expect an assurance that Ofsted fully, and without qualification or reservation, embraces the growth of degree apprenticeship.

Partnership with OfS, QAA and professional and statutory regulatory bodies

While Ofsted may inspect apprenticeship, what is beyond doubt is that the Office for Students will retain the statutory regulator role for the degree in a degree apprenticeship and, indeed, for the university delivering the provision.

Given the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s preference for the integrated degree apprenticeship model where the degree delivers, assesses and accredits the required knowledge, skills and behaviours, Ofsted will inspect and OfS will regulate exactly the same programme. Around the table will also often be a regulator or professional body, say the College of Policing or NMC. Ofsted will be one of several quality assurance players – therefore, it will share responsibility.

This will call for innovative approaches to inspection given the range of organisations with a statutory role in assuring quality in degree apprenticeship.

Get it wrong and we will have a regulatory nightmare with different quality bodies, often publicly funded, demanding different and possibly contradictory requirements.

Ofsted will need to listen, learn and, in many cases, adopt a new way of working.

I will conclude by wishing Ofsted every success. While we would profoundly disagree with a decision to ask Ofsted to inspect degree apprenticeship, we would do all we can to support the introduction of an appropriate inspection approach if this is the government’s decision.

Degree apprenticeship will be pivotal to training the new police constables, social workers, registered nurses and advanced clinical practitioners (including leaders and managers) our public sector need. Presumably, in this regard the expectations of the home and health secretaries will be high.

Elsewhere, the chancellor will be looking for apprenticeship to train individuals in the high-level, high-productivity jobs the post-Covid 19 economy needs. Getting it wrong and hampering the growth of
degree apprenticeship will not be an option for Ofsted.