Ofsted talk tough on integrity in new regime, but they can’t do it alone

18 Jan 2019, 9:40

A first glance there is little new in the draft Common Inspection Framework and accompanying Handbook for FE and Skills, due for implementation from September.

Those hoping for the four grade structure to change or the introduction of campus level inspections for college groups will be sorely disappointed.

There was also an opportunity to take a fresh look at the way some providers dodge inspection by subcontracting, but clearly no appetite.

But the emphasis on integrity is certainly welcome and could be very significant.

For too long Ofsted has been heavily reliant on achievement rates when making judgements – trusting they told a credible story about the quality of a provider.

As a result, in a high stakes inspection regime, some colleges and training providers have found ways to game the system.

For example, as reported by the DfE statisticians, after closing some long exploited loop-holes, many providers saw their apprenticeship achievement rates drop by over 20 percentage points for 2015/16.

And in the last few years following the end of Ofsted ILR data checks ahead of an inspection, I’ve regularly heard stories about colleges returning to poor practices to boost achievement rates.

These including ‘nesting’, where students are for example enrolled on several short courses making up all the constituent parts of a larger one.

Ofsted plan to focus more on positive progression and destination data is welcome, but this data is open to manipulation too.

But, as the chief inspector told me, Ofsted can’t become a police force.

Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the Education and Skills Funding Agency to ensure providers follow the rules and, where necessarily, the ‘spirit’ of the rules and guidance they write.

Is the ESFA up to the task?

Well, they have been recruiting plenty of new auditors, but just how sensible is it that they are responsible for both funding and compliance?

Ofsted’s inspection refresh is welcome, but a wider review of the whole compliance regime is really what’s overdue.

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