Ofsted has reviewed and updated its inspection framework and handbooks for September 2022, as it prepares to introduce a new “sub-judgement” for colleges on how well they are contributing to local skills needs.
The education watchdog will also end a curriculum grace period for schools and FE providers in place since 2019.
Here’s what FE providers need to know.
1. Only colleges to be judged on meeting skills needs
Ofsted’s five-year strategy, published in May, said that over the next four years all colleges will be subject to “enhanced inspections”. This will involve an assessment on how well they are meeting the skills needs of the economy. The watchdog has been given extra funding for additional inspectors to make this happen.
It comes as the government embarks on a national rollout of local skills improvement plans as part of the reforms outlined in the skills and post-16 education act 2022.
Ofsted confirmed today that its evaluation will include a “sub-judgement on the college’s contribution to meeting skills needs”, which is “linked to and dependent on the quality of education and leadership and management key judgements”.
“This evaluation will take into account not just skills needed immediately for employment, including for those already in employment, but also skills which are necessary to ensure students’ progress towards employment, in necessary stages by means of further and higher education, training, work experience and increased personal independence at all levels,” Ofsted said.
Inspectors will arrive at one of the following judgements about the college’s contribution to skills needs: limited; reasonable; or strong.
The sub-judgement will only relate to provision which is within Ofsted’s inspection scope – meaning that skills bootcamps provision will be excluded.
Independent training providers are excluded from this new sub-judgement.
2. Ofsted curriculum grace period ends …
When it introduced its new inspection framework in September 2019, Ofsted put in place “transition arrangements”, which gave schools and FE providers a grace period in which to bring their curriculum in line.
This meant that any education provider still in the process of updating its curriculum could still receive a ‘good’ grade, provided other aspects of the provision were good.
This was originally due to last until September 2020, but this was delayed due to Covid restrictions. The end to the grace period was then pushed back again from September 2021 to this spring, and then again to September 2022.
Today, Ofsted confirmed the grace period would end in September, and has removed the arrangements from its inspection handbooks.
3. … But new grade descriptor to prevent ‘cliff edge’
However, the watchdog said it was “not introducing a ‘cliff edge’ for a judgement of good”, and recognised “that you are likely to always be revising elements of your curriculum”.
The change “does not mean that schools and FE providers will now be expected to meet every single handbook criterion to remain good”.
A new grade descriptor has been added to the quality of education judgement, “acknowledging that settings are no longer facing emergency measures and are taking longer-term approaches to return pupils and learners to the curriculum they always intended”.
In a blog post published today, Ofsted national director of education Chris Russell wrote that “we do not expect curriculum to be perfect or a ‘finished article’”.
“Indeed, the best curriculum thinking is always evolving to meet changing circumstances. Inspection supports this approach to continuous improvement.”
4. ‘Time to move on from temporary Covid measures’
Ofsted acknowledged that Covid “continues to have an impact on early years settings, schools, and further education providers, and is likely to affect how they make decisions for some time”.
But it also said that education providers were “moving on from an emergency response to the pandemic and returning to more usual ways of working”.
“We believe that now is the right time to move beyond the temporary measures that we placed in our handbooks as a response to the national disruption,” Russell added.
To reflect this, paragraphs about temporary Covid measures have now been incorporated into the main sections of each handbook, making it “clear that inspectors will continue to take account of issues that providers may be facing”.
An example given is a “clear expectation that conversations between leaders and the lead inspector will continue to include a discussion on the impact of COVID-19.
“This ensures that our inspections continue to be informed by the different contexts in which you work and the range of challenges that you may still face.”