Talks have begun between Ofsted and the government over extending the inspectorate’s remit to cover degree apprenticeships.

Paul Joyce, Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills, revealed this during an exclusive webinar with FE Week editor Nick Linford (both pictured during the session above) this afternoon.

Degree apprenticeships are currently only inspected by the Quality Assurance Agency, which oversees all university-level provision.

But Mr Joyce said today that Ofsted is in talks with the government, as well as QAA and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, about changing that to give his organisation a key new role.

He said: “Where I would see the gap being [for Ofsted to fill] is the apprenticeship part of the degree, so not the degree qualification delivered in a university, that we won’t be looking at.

“We do need to ensure that the other part of the apprenticeships provision, ie what happens in the employer, is looked at and that it’s quality assured. So not the degree qualification, but the wraparound apprenticeship.”

He added: “I’m certainly of the view that regardless of its level, an apprenticeship is an apprenticeship. To me, it makes perfect sense that we have one inspection regime for an apprenticeship and that inspection regime should be Ofsted across the piece.”

He was asked to clarify how this would work – so whether Ofsted’s preference would be for it alone to inspect degree apprenticeship provision.

Mr Joyce replied: “That’s not quite what I said. If a university delivers the degree, there is already an inspection regime to look after that side of things [which would not need to change].”

Mr Linford then asked if based on his clarification, the expectation would be for Ofsted to send in inspectors to degree apprentices’ workplaces, but for QAA teams to continue checking out the learning they get at actual universities.

Mr Joyce was less clear with his response this time, saying: “I don’t think we’ve got that level of clarity yet, that’s the conversation we are having with DfE and QAA, because clearly what we don’t want to do is have that two tier approach.

“We do need to get absolutely clear on what the inspection regime for degree level apprenticeships will look like and who does it. We need to do that sensibly and that’s why we are having these discussions.”

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers had already been pushing for Ofsted to “have authority to inspect every apprenticeship”.

A spokesperson warned some degree apprenticeships were not genuinely work-based learning and instead involved “simply rebranding of more vocationally biased degrees”, meaning stricter monitoring is needed.

Chief executive Mark Dawe said in his response to last week’s annual Ofsted report: “Since I started in this role, I have been told not to worry about the quality regime for degree apprenticeships because QAA has it all in hand – mainly by HE sector representatives.

“It has taken me some time, but what I can assure everyone is that there is nothing further from the truth.

“Let’s stop pussy footing around and pandering to the HE sector. Ofsted need to have a role in inspecting all apprenticeship provision whatever level it is.”

The DfE was unable to comment on its talks with Ofsted ahead of publication.

It comes after FE Week reported last month that management degree apprenticeships are expected to rocket, plus the nursing degree apprenticeship recently announced are likely to be very popular.

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  1. Mike Farmer

    If the government wants universities to engage with degree and higher apprenticesships, imposing Ofsted inspection on them is hardly likely to encourage them to do so. The HE Bill currently going through Parliament proposes significant changes to the quality assessment regime for higher education, but inspection by Ofsted is not one of the proposals included in the Bill. It is difficult to see how Ofsted could make this stick without legislation, which I am sure the House of Lords would balk at, if their debate on the HE Bill yesterday is anyting to go by.

  2. Chris Fairclough

    I currently work for a Further and Higher education establishment, which supplies the local nuclear industry with Apprentices and graduates, in collaboration with the local university. I am currently employed as a Degree Apprenticeship Assessor. Our organisation already have Ofsted inspections, so realistically to transfer the DA/HA to Ofsted wouldn’t make much of a difference to the organisation, but it would to me directly. They will leave the Degree side well alone. What they will look into is the review and assessment process in the workplace. The only trouble with that would be that in the Level 6 Nuclear for example, the two parts are not mutually exclusive, so trying to work out how to split it down would be difficult.