Ofsted to review how it inspects FE and skills, new strategy states

In its new five-year strategy, Ofsted says it will inspect every college to check it's meeting skills needs.

In its new five-year strategy, Ofsted says it will inspect every college to check it's meeting skills needs.

Ofsted will review how “complex and diverse” FE providers are inspected as part of its new five-year strategy, the inspectorate has announced today. 

Inspectors will also visit every college in the next four years to assess how well they are meeting the skills needs of the economy in its renewed effort to raise standards. 

Ofsted has made a series of high-level commitments in its new strategy for 2022-2027 guided, it states, by a “fundamental principle” that inspection is a “force for improvement”.

The strategy encompasses Ofsted’s full remit across early years, social care, schools as well as further education and skills.

However, the strategy is silent on areas that were thought to be priorities for inspectors, such as apprenticeships and prison education

The chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has said that the new strategy “takes account of the impact of the pandemic and raises still further our ambitions for children and learners. Ofsted’s mantra of ‘raising standards, improving lives’ has never been more important.”

Spielman’s strategic ambitions have been arranged across eight priorities for her organisation which include “right-touch regulation”, “making the most of our insights” and “keeping pace with sector changes”.

Keeping pace 

Referencing the size and complexity of the sector, and the growing number of large FE college groups, Ofsted’s new strategy states that it will “review” its inspection model for further education and skills, while not abandoning its education inspection framework (EIF): “We will, while retaining the EIF, review whether we have the right model of inspection in further education and skills, given the complexity and diversity of provision and the size of some individual providers.”

Today’s strategy also restates a commitment made in the government’s SEND green paper, published earlier this month, to introduce a new area SEND inspection framework. The strategy says this will “hold the right agencies to account for their role in the system.”

An FE Week investigation into area SEND inspection findings exposed common failings in local systems leading to a “cliff-edge” of support at ages 16 and 18 in many areas.

Meeting skills needs

Over the next four years, all colleges will be assessed on how well they are meeting the skills needs of the economy, Ofsted has said, under its strategic heading “inspections that raise standards”.

The strategy doesn’t say whether this apply to other FE and skills settings, such as independent training providers or adult education providers.

An “enhanced” role for Ofsted in making judgements about meeting skills needs is not new.

It was proposed in last year’s Department for Education (DfE)  consultation on reforms to FE funding and accountability.

DfE proposed a new “skills measure” would be part of a new “performance dashboard” for general further education colleges that measured how technical training offer matched local need.

That measure would, it was proposed, in turn give Ofsted and the FE Commissioner a steer on where intervention and support activity might be needed. 

The government has been quiet on its funding and accountability reforms since the consultation closed back in October.

The current education inspection framework already has provisions for inspectors to make judgements about how well a provider’s education offer is meeting local skills needs.

For example, the inspection handbook sets out how in order to achieve at least a ‘Good’ judgement for ‘quality of education’, inspectors have to see evidence that leaders provide a curriculum that is “appropriately relevant to local and regional employment and training priorities”. 

At the other end, the existing handbook tells inspectors to award ‘Inadequate’ for leadership and management if “the curriculum fails to meet the needs of learners, employers, the local community or local and regional economies.”

Today’s strategy document says that, as a result of assessing how well colleges are meeting skills needs, more colleges “will agree that [Ofsted’s] inspections and guidance help them better match their offer to skills needs in the economy”. 

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  1. Phil Hatton

    FEFC had range and responsiveness as an individual graded area. At Barking College we gained outstanding for it, with features like postcode analysis for widening participation, curriculum ladders for 14 of the 13 areas of learning from entry to advanced levels [with links to HE for several areas], full cost recovery work with small and large employers to provide bespoke training [including delivering on Ford premises] and well developed links with ‘everyone’ in our area and beyond. Ofsted could do well to take a look at what was included and how it was inspected. A great deal of training and selection of inspectors will be required.