Ofsted scrutiny of ‘huge benefit’ to education sector, Spielman says in last annual report

Watchdog also flags 'deeply concerning' FE teacher training, continued poor apprenticeship provision, and bootcamps quality assurance fears

Watchdog also flags 'deeply concerning' FE teacher training, continued poor apprenticeship provision, and bootcamps quality assurance fears

Ofsted has published its annual report for 2022/23, its last with Amanda Spielman as chief inspector.

Spielman said there is reason to be “optimistic” about education and care in England as she prepares to depart from the role after seven years, adding that the pandemic has a “long tail; significant challenges remain, but they are not intractable”.

The chief inspector also used her final report to express how she “firmly believes” that Ofsted’s independent scrutiny is of “huge benefit to the education and care sectors and to the children and learners we all serve”.

The watchdog has faced fierce criticism this year following the death of Caversham Primary School headteacher Ruth Perry. Her family said she took her own life before the publication of an inspection report rating the school ‘inadequate’.

The annual report has been published earlier than usual, and ahead of an inquest into Perry’s death, which begins next week.

Spielman’s commentary said the role of Ofsted is “poorly understood” and the inspectorate’s ability to build “sector goodwill” is being “progressively curtailed” by its lack of funding.

She added: “Inspection, like any form of scrutiny, may never be entirely comfortable for the recipient. But we try to make it as positive and valuable an experience as it can be – and make sure it is always grounded in the best interests of children and learners.

“The inspection feedback that we collect regularly and publish in our annual reports consistently shows that in a very high proportion of our work, it lands as it should.

“It is Ofsted that has to make the tough calls when provision of any kind is not good enough for children, and some contention will always flow from that.”

Spielman’s commentary section of the report had little mention of further education specifically, aside from repeating Ofsted’s view that shortages in key industries are “tempting tutors back into the workplace because their skills command a premium”.

Here are the key FE and skills findings from the main report.

Overall performance takes a slight dip

In 2022/23, Ofsted carried out 510 full inspections, 33 short inspections and 160 new provider monitoring visits.

Seventy per cent of full or short inspections resulted in overall judgements of ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

As of August 31, 2023, 79 per cent of all FE providers held a grade one or two, down from 81 per cent at the same point last year.

FE Week published a breakdown of Ofsted performance by provider type yesterday, which showed the proportion of general FE colleges that hold the two top grades has hit another record high, while independent training providers dropped to their lowest since the introduction of the education inspection framework. Read this analysis here.

‘Poor’ FE teacher training

Ofsted reported that initial teacher education (ITE) provision for further education trainees “remains the poorest performing age phase” of teacher training.

Of the 12 ITE inspections that were carried out last year by Ofsted, seven were judged as ‘good’, two were ‘requires improvement’ and three were ‘inadequate’.

The stats come after the Department for Education announced plans to reform FE ITE amid “quality and value for money” concerns, with plans involving cutting private providers out of the market.

This year, the DfE commissioned Ofsted to inspect two previously uninspected providers, with high numbers of trainees studying the Diploma in Education and Training (DET). Both were judged ‘inadequate’.

Ofsted said today that it is “deeply concerned that trainees were left poorly prepared”. The inspectorate found staff “wrongly informing trainees that these qualifications would allow them to teach in primary and secondary schools”.

It also found there was a “lack of research-informed curriculums, trainees not having access to suitable teaching placements, and staff not having a clear enough understanding of the further education and skills sector”.

The DfE’s commission to inspect DET providers will “continue into next year”.

‘Too many’ bootcamp learners don’t complete

Quality assurance of skills bootcamps “needs to be more effective” and too many learners drop out before completing their course, according to Ofsted.

The watchdog began inspecting skills bootcamps in April. Between then and August, inspectors found “many examples” where the quality of teaching was “not consistent enough” and found “too many” learners quit their course early.

This follows a damning thematic review of the short courses last November which found there was poor oversight of the quality of training.

Today’s annual report said inspectors were still seeing the weaknesses it identified last year in its recent inspections.

Bootcamp training providers generally offer provision which contributes to local skills needs, but there are some cases where “the purpose of the programmes is unclear”.

The report was particularly critical of providers’ arrangements for quality assurance, particularly when subcontractors provide the training. Inspectors also found that students who receive their training online report having a poor experience.

Providers do support SEND students well, the report said, and learners report that they are satisfied with their training. Support in finding work though “varies substantially”.

A third of new apprenticeship providers grade 3 or 4

Apprenticeship inspection outcomes remain the “poorest performing provision type” in further education and skills this year.

In 2022/23, there were 1,390 providers in the sector offering apprenticeships – 170 fewer than last year. Of those that were inspected, 76 per cent were judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, or were found to be making at least ‘reasonable progress’ in a new provider monitoring visit.

But of those that had their first inspection this year, one in three providers were judged ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ for apprenticeships.

Common features of ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ apprenticeships included well-trained teachers, high-quality initial assessment, “thorough oversight” of quality and rapid intervention by leaders when improvements are needed.

High-performing apprenticeship providers also properly prepare apprentices for end-point assessments by “making sure that the apprentices get feedback that helps them to improve.”

In weaker providers, apprentices’ English and maths training is not linked closely enough to their industry, with providers instead focusing on getting them to achieve the functional skills qualifications. Similarly, off-the-job training in weaker providers is “insufficiently linked” to on-the-job training.

Inspectors also found leaders without the systems in place to properly spot weaknesses in their provision.

Early years settings break apprenticeship rules

Ofsted has attacked early years settings for breaking funding rules by not releasing apprentices for their off-the-job training.

“Many settings are so reliant on apprentices that they do not always release them for college. This can delay or disrupt apprentice training,” the report stated.

Ofsted remarked this was “not fair” to children and apprentices and warned settings that “using apprentices to fill staffing gaps or make up ratios may seem like a short-term fix, but it cannot be a long-term solution.”

“Using apprentices in this way is also against funding rules.”

How to achieve a ‘strong’ skills contribution

In September 2022, Ofsted introduced enhanced inspections for colleges and sixth form colleges in which it makes a sub-judgement on their contribution to meeting skills needs.

Of the 68 providers that received an enhanced inspection, 31 per cent were found making a ‘strong’ contribution, 63 per cent were making a ‘reasonable’ contribution, and 6 per cent were making a ‘limited’ contribution.

Here’re the attributes that colleges have to score a ‘strong’ contribution, in the words of Ofsted: “They have clear skills strategies, established through close discussion and liaison with a range of employer and other stakeholders.

“In all the best cases, these skills strategies align closely to existing and emerging local, regional and/or national skills needs. Staff at all levels maintain strong relationships with a range of local and regional stakeholders, which they used to identify new and emerging skills needs.

“Senior leaders in these providers use their extensive range of contacts to broaden the curriculum and enhance learners’ skills and understanding. Learners and apprentices are taught up-to-date knowledge and skills. In some cases, leaders have very strong relationships with national stakeholders who specialise in a particular subject or field.

“Curriculum leaders and/or subject heads also maintain good relationships with key stakeholders. They use these to review the curriculum, making sure it is up to date and that it takes account of skills needs in their field. They also work hard to keep staff skills up to date so that teaching gave learners the latest relevant skills in their field.”

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  1. Let’s just put it out there – Ofsted is needed.
    As a sector we’re responsible for the development of people’s career, education & skills development, paid for from the public purse.
    It’s a significant responsibility that we willingly accept but we are absolutely accountable for the work we do & learners, employers & government have a right & duty to hold us accountable.
    Inspectors ask questions, questions that can only feel uncomfortable if we receive them that way, & they’ll ask questions until they get an answer, but we’re represented during the inspection by our nominee who can also ask questions, in this case of the inspectors, & they can challenge inspectors’ actions, decisions, outcomes to ensure fairness & impartiality.
    I feel anxious during an inspection because we’re being scrutinised & challenged, & as an ITP failure at inspection would lead to closure which is always in the back of my mind, but the inspectors are the champions of our customers with a duty to ensure that our customers receive the experience & outcome we agreed to provide.
    I believe that Ofsted are essential in maintaining standards in education & training but I also believe that ITP’s should have an opportunity to improve before contract cancellation if they achieve the lowest great. That opportunity would reduce a significant proportion of my worry & allow us to rectify any mistakes. We don’t always get it right first time, but we must get it right the second time!!
    What do you think?

    • I agree an independent quality checking mechanism is essential, but I don’t think the tone is quite right.

      Constructive and fair scrutiny in a supportive environment is a good thing, but I think if we’re all being honest about it, that is not the general experience.

      Scrutiny done with you and scrutiny done to you are two very different animals. If the sector cannot adequately appraise Ofsted’s function and understanding of context, then it’s no longer a collaboration, it’s a process to be endured and reacted to. Ultimately, this is about a transactional power imbalance. If Ofsted’s stated goals and providers stated goals are not moving in the same direction, it’s a failure of both parties, not just one.

  2. Tony Allen

    Personally, I fully support Ofsted and the work that it does.
    From my experience of working in the apprenticeship space, this report gives us a pretty accurate reflection of where we are in terms of the quality of provision. New providers often struggle, for a whole variety of reasons including very little initial support from the DfE.