Ofsted has today published further details about how their phased return to normal inspection activity of FE providers will work from January.

As announced last week, graded full and short inspections will remain suspended until the summer.

But monitoring visits will return from the New Year and the watchdog will introduce ‘support and assurance’ visits to colleges and providers that educate 16 to 19-year-olds.

Ofsted’s ‘interim visits’, which have been taking place this autumn term and resulted in a published letter but no judgements, will conclude at the end of December.

Here is what FE providers need to know from today’s guidance…

1. One-day ‘support and assurance visits’ will not result in a published letter

From January 2021, Ofsted says it will carry out “regionally-based support and assurance visits” to those colleges and providers that offer education to 16 to 19 year olds and were judged to be ‘good’ for their overall effectiveness at their previous inspection.

Before the visits, inspectors may request copies of “relevant quality improvement and/or self-assessment documents used by the provider”, but they will not require new documents to be produced for their visit.

During visits, inspectors will “discuss with providers the progress they have made in dealing with weaknesses and/or next steps identified at their most recent inspection”.

They will also discuss with leaders the steps they have taken to “ensure that learners continue to receive a full curriculum”.

Each visit will normally last one working day but this “may vary according to circumstances and provider type. It may be necessary to carry out some meetings, discussions or aspects of the visits remotely”.

After the visits, inspectors will write to the provider’s principal or chief executive outlining their findings and set out the “next steps the provider needs to take to ensure continued improvements in provision”.

The letter will not be published but “may be shared with relevant funding bodies”.

2. The return of new provider monitoring visits

During the pause in routine inspections, Ofsted had also put a temporary stop to monitoring visits to new providers, including to those with funding to deliver apprenticeship.

Instead, it conducted monitoring visits to apprenticeship providers which had made ‘insufficient progress’ at their first visit.

New provider monitoring visits are set to return from January, and will be carried out the same way as before routine inspections were halted. For example, with judgements on individual themes based on three progress bars: insufficient, reasonable, significant.

The watchdog has reminded providers it does share its findings with regulators, such as the FE Commissioner, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and combined authorities.

Last week, Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills Paul Joyce told FE Week new provider visits had been suspended for the autumn due to them having to “prioritise our resources” where it was “best suited,” meaning the interim visits Ofsted has undertaken this term.

However, he added, a “number of providers” had been allowed into the apprenticeship market, “so it therefore became very crowded with untried, untested providers”.

3. Monitoring visits to ‘inadequate’ and ‘requires improvement’ providers to also resume

Also, from January, inspectors will return to carrying out monitoring visits to providers found to ‘require improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ at a full inspection.

Progress judgements will be made on the main areas for improvement found at the last inspection.

Inspections for ‘inadequate’ providers will depend on whether they are still funded, and whether they still deliver training covered by the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers.

Following monitoring visits of grade three providers, they will receive another full inspection within 18 months of the visit’s report being published.

For monitoring visits to grade four providers, Ofsted will carry out another within six months, if the provider is still being funded.

Announcing its plans to resume inspection last week, Ofsted said it will continue to have the power to inspect an education provider if they have serious concerns about safeguarding.

In this latest guidance, it says if it has “significant” causes for concern, such as about safeguarding, inspectors will carry out a monitoring visit “at any reasonable time,” which will normally result in a progress judgement against each theme and a brief published report.

“Concerns arising from monitoring visits may lead to an early full inspection,” the guidance cautions.

4. Survey visits for thematic review of T Levels

Ofsted announced on Friday it would be carrying out survey visits to colleges and providers as part of a thematic survey of the first T Levels and the T Level transition programme, under orders from the Department for Education.

The survey will take place over two years – 2020/21 and 2021/22 – and the visits will “apply the education inspection framework methodology to assess educational effectiveness and the quality of education” for T Levels, Joyce said on Friday.

Ofsted has said an interim report of their findings will be published in September 2021, with a full report published in September 2022.