New provider monitoring visits will resume from March 15 – and they will be conducted face-to-face, Ofsted has confirmed.
The inspectorate had hoped to restart the visits from January remotely but later announced they would be delayed indefinitely in light of the third national lockdown.
A spokesperson for the watchdog told FE Week today they have now agreed to recommence the inspections a week after learners return for face-to-face teaching from March 8.
They said the visits will require inspectors to be onsite to “provide the level of assurance they need to make progress judgements”.
“We consider new further education and skills providers who have not yet had a monitoring visit to be the highest priority for our return to face-to-face inspection activity,” the spokesperson added.
The watchdog has said a revised operational note for these changes will be published early next week.
Independent providers may be concerned about inspectors visiting their sites before they receive Covid-19 testing kits from the government at the end of March. Some may even not open until the following month.
Currently, Ofsted’s inspection policy states that providers can request to defer an inspection, and each case will be judged “separately and on its own merits”.
But “it is only in exceptional circumstances that we would consider granting a deferral”.
What about other inspections?
While new provider monitoring visits will be going ahead onsite form March 15, the rest of Ofsted’s current inspection activity – such as monitoring check-ups on grade three and four providers – will be conducted remotely.
On its rolling update page on Thursday, Ofsted wrote: “For the rest of the term, we will continue to carry out our monitoring inspections remotely by default (with the exception of new provider monitoring visits to further education providers, which require site visits).”
With coronavirus cases falling and providers due to reopen on Monday, the visits have been deemed safe to go ahead.
Watchdog ‘prioritising’ new provider visits
FE Week understands the Education and Skills Funding Agency has grown increasingly concerned with new apprenticeship providers operating for prolonged periods without oversight from Ofsted.
The watchdog has also admitted its worries about the quality of new providers’ training.
Its 2019/20 annual report, published in December, called apprenticeship training the sector’s “weakest” provision.
Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills Paul Joyce told FE Week after the report’s publication: “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.”
New provider monitoring visits will continue to result in a published report and Ofsted will judge three categories and say whether the provider is making ‘significant’, ‘reasonable’, or ‘insufficient’ progress.
If the provider scores ‘insufficient progress’ in one or more themes, they face having their starts suspended and being kicked off the register of apprenticeship training providers.