Ofsted published its annual report for 2019/20 last week, and while chief inspector Amanda Spielman chose not to use any of her speech to talk about the sector, deputy director for FE and skills Paul Joyce was on hand to catch us up on developments.
Here are four key points from FE Week’s interview with him…
1. No monitoring visits of new providers this autumn owing to resource issues
The education watchdog paused all routine inspection activity in March, and has only this week revealed it will resume monitoring visits to new providers come January, with full graded inspections to come in the summer.
Joyce said that in March, many providers were “not operating, so we could not go and see their provision to make the judgments”.
However, he said that in the autumn term, they had “prioritised our resources” where it was “best suited”, so made “interim visits” and second apprenticeship monitoring visits where the provider had received an ‘insufficient progress’ rating at their first visit – rather than carrying out first-time monitoring visits to new providers.
Apprenticeship provision was identified as the “weakest” area of FE and skills provision in Ofsted’s report for 2019/20 and Joyce admitted: “We remain concerned there are a number of new providers that have not yet had a visit. We will prioritise those providers, as soon as we’re able to do so.”
Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of providers that received new provider monitoring visits last year had at least one ‘insufficient progress’ judgment.
2. College mergers research on the cards after poor performance
One finding from the annual report was that of the 26 newly merged colleges Ofsted had inspected since 2015, one-third were graded as ‘requires improvement’.
This is a lower rating than the “original grade profile before the mergers” for the colleges involved, the report reads.
Joyce said that “unfortunately, because of the suspension of routine inspections” the watchdog hasn’t been to inspect a number of other merged colleges that had been scheduled a visit as enough time had now elapsed since their merger had taken place.
“We will return to those as soon as we’re able to return to full inspections, and once we’ve inspected more, we will be able to do some research and evaluation into the effectiveness of mergers – what worked well and hasn’t worked so well.”
He also promised Ofsted would return to look at the possibility of campus-level inspections for college groups, and will continue work with the Department for Education, Association of Colleges and other bodies “about what we can do to improve reporting and possibly grading of campuses”.
3. Ofsted can’t say if apprenticeship quality is better now than before the 2017 reforms
Ofsted’s annual report quite starkly highlights how ten per cent of apprenticeship grades at inspection were ‘inadequate’ – which the report says is “clearly too large a number”.
However, Joyce refused to be drawn on whether quality has improved or worsened on average since the widescale reforms to the apprenticeships programme in 2017.
“It’s too early for me to definitively say whether standards-based apprenticeships are a better product than legacy frameworks,” he told FE Week.
“There are still frameworks and standards being delivered in providers. So, until frameworks go completely and we’re looking at only standards, it’s really difficult to make that comparison.”
He did say it was “unfortunate many new apprenticeship providers had been allowed to enter the apprenticeship market without the necessary oversight.
“A lot of brand-new providers without any experience are coming into the market, and through our monitoring visits we have demonstrated the quality is poor.”
Pressed on whether his criticisms on oversight were directed at the Education and Skills Funding Agency, he said: “With hindsight, there were a number of providers let into the market, so it therefore became very crowded with untried, untested providers.”
4. Would not be drawn on achievement rate data decisions
Joyce refused repeated requests for his view on the decision by the DfE not to publish and share with Ofsted qualification achievement rate (QAR) data for providers in 2019/20.
“We will deal with whatever situation we have,” he said. “We will use whatever data is available to us from the DfE, and we will use whatever data is available to the provider.
“I won’t want to use any data the provider does not see themselves, because that’s not open and transparent.
“If we’ve got it, we’ve got it; if we haven’t, we haven’t,” he summarised.
Since the interview, the DfE has announced that, although qualification achievement rate data will not be published for 2020/21, it will be shared privately with Ofsted, as well as providers and the department.
QAR data is used to inform inspection judgments as well as being central to Ofsted’s published “risk assessment methodology” when deciding which colleges and training providers to visit.