New Ofsted chief had ‘outdated’ view of apprenticeships as school head

Sir Martyn Oliver talked up careers guidance in his sector debut at AAC 2024

Sir Martyn Oliver talked up careers guidance in his sector debut at AAC 2024

29 Feb 2024, 22:00

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Ofsted’s new chief inspector admitted he was “completely wrong” about the quality of apprenticeships as a school leader, during his first public appearance in post at this week’s FE Week Annual Apprenticeships Conference.

In a Q&A session from the main stage, Sir Martyn Oliver spoke about his experience as a school leader in trying to offer independent advice to his students about apprenticeship options.

“I had a massively outdated view of apprenticeships. I was completely wrong in just how good they are,” the chief inspector said.

When asked why, despite the Baker clause, providers still report barriers to accessing schools to promote apprenticeships, Oliver said schools can struggle “finding the time” to offer “anything beyond” the curriculum.

Reflecting on his time as a school leader, Oliver said: “It was no good just giving careers advice internally. What you needed was an expert who was up to date in apprenticeships.

“I developed this contract with an external partner who came in and I was really happy for this person to say to all of my young people, even if I’ve got a sixth form, don’t to go the sixth form, go to that training provider, go to that sixth form, go to that college, whatever would work for them.”

Oliver also revealed his much-trailed “big listen” exercise will launch “a week on Friday”, on March 8. He is booked to deliver a keynote speech at the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference in Liverpool that day.

“I’m about to embark on a big listen where I’ll be hopefully listening to all of you and, really critically, the young people and adults who are taking your courses, and finding out from them what it is we best do to support and challenge and make sure standards are as high as possible.”

He would not be drawn on specific changes he wanted to make to the education inspection framework, but did say he wanted more training provider leaders to take part in Ofsted inspector training.

Oliver said he chose the AAC to be his first public engagement as chief inspector because “apprenticeships are a real engine for social mobility”.

He attended the Birmingham conference this week following a visit to Blackpool and The Fylde College where he spoke to staff and apprentices. 

“I have seen incredible practice and met fantastic young people that are a real credit to the qualification, and to this country, in what they’re trying to achieve,” he said.

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  1. As part of this Big Listen, I hope OFSTED will try to understand that Career Guidance is much more than information and advice. Inspectors seem disinterested in the quality of provision to meet Benchmark 8, only checking that the Baker Clause is upheld and the access to personal guidance box is ticked. In particular, they fail to explore the quality of the interaction, to find out or understand the impact of some students receiving 10-20 minutes (45 minutes is the CDI recommendation and for good reason) or that the adviser has only just signed up to the level 6 qualification and not undertaken training or observations in personal guidance. Personal guidance starts with understanding the young person, their mindset, constructs and influences. Listening and building a relationship where gentle challenge and growth can take place requires a high level of skill and appropriate time. Groupwork can be used for advice and information. Please OFSTED, seek to understand personal career guidance.