Ofsted interim visits: 8 new findings you need to know

Mental health issues are on the rise, work placements are challenging and recruitment is mixed, says Ofsted FE report
15th December 2020, 11:34am
Kate Parker


Ofsted interim visits: 8 new findings you need to know

Coronavirus: 8 Key Findings From Ofsted Interim Visits To Fe Colleges

Learning has become disjointed, poor mental health among staff and students is on the rise and leaders are increasingly worried about work placements and apprenticeships, Ofsted's latest report on further education says today. 

The findings come from the 84 further education providers that the inspectorate visited between 19 October and 4 December.

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Some staff told Ofsted that having to reorganise assessment and teaching due to coronavirus restrictions led to learning becoming "disjointed", and that this was likely to have implications for learners being able to develop and embed knowledge and skills. Staff also said that delayed guidance from qualification-awarding organisations made it harder for them to plan course content, particularly the practical elements.

Coronavirus: Colleges adapting the curriculum

However, staff also reported that strategic reviews of curriculum have happened as a result of Covid-19 disruption, which had then led to positive change.  

Leaders said that course content reflected the reality of new working environments, and that beauty and healthcare courses now included content on infection control and Covid-19 safety measures. 

Other leaders said they had reviewed their curriculum plan to meet the changing demands of the job market, and several said they were working with other providers and local agencies to fill local skills gaps. 

Recruitment of learners

Ofsted found that the overall picture of recruitment was mixed and varied across courses: some had seen a rise in interest in the health and social care sector, whereas others had struggled to recruit new learners, particularly in apprenticeships. 

Staff said that some employers were reluctant to take on new apprentices and others had ceased or paused all recruitment - and one provider had decided to stop some of its apprenticeship programmes because of the challenge of recruitment. 

Reduced staff capacity was also a factor: one provider reported significantly reduced recruitment to English for speakers of other languages courses because community venues that staff normally used were unavailable.

Courses like construction and performing arts have also suffered due to the impact that social distancing requirements have had on the ability to teach large groups. 

However, providers did find an increase in enrolments across all age groups - and one was working with Jobcentre Plus and the local enterprise partnership to develop new curricula and traineeships for adults.


Leaders told Ofsted that the number of learners with significant health concerns had increased over the course of the pandemic, and that they had seen rises in safeguarding concerns, such as over domestic abuse, county lines, dependence on food banks, knife crime and drug and alcohol misuse.

Some providers had therefore updated courses to include personal development modules on protecting learners' mental health and/or wellbeing, and had brought forward their safeguarding and online training in the curriculum to the start of the year or when learners returned. 

Mental health and wellbeing 

Many leaders said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on staff wellbeing - with more than one leader telling Ofsted there have been suicides, as well as Covid-19-related bereavements, within their community. 

Covid-related anxiety was a factor - and leaders said that staff needed additional reassurance and support to return to work. 

Ofsted found that how providers support staff varied: some had open-door policies and leaders acting as a call centre for staff. Other leaders told us they had held formal return-to-work interviews, sent out weekly newsletters and carried out more regular one-to-one meetings in order to support staff. A few providers made daily keeping-in-touch phone calls. 

When it came to learners, many leaders said that learners had been profoundly impacted by the pandemic and that support for wellbeing and mental health was their primary focus.

Some students were anxious about returning to learning on site in the autumn - and staff had used virtual tours to show how sites had met Covid-19 safety requirements, included parents in their communications about returning and introduced face masks to mitigate concerns. 

Ofsted found that in some providers, a focus on learners' wellbeing superseded that of engagement with learning, with "pastoral-first" engagement.

Work placements

Many leaders told Ofsted that providing work placements and apprenticeships was an ongoing problem - and that it was a particular challenge for learners with high needs who required additional support. 

Staff said supported internships had been halted during the pandemic and that employers had few plans to resume these internships in the short to medium term. 

Leaders said learning was being especially disrupted because the current economic instability and Covid-19 restrictions meant that: 

  • Employers with existing apprenticeships were ceasing to trade, so alternative placements needed to be found. 
  • Employers were letting existing apprentices go and/or ceasing to take on new apprentices.
  • Employers were reducing their work placements and training budgets.
  • Employers were reluctant to take on new learners and work placements due to possible infection risks.
  • Some apprentices were still on furlough and had exhausted the theoretical work needed in order to complete their course; however, they had not yet completed the necessary practical work with their employer.

Leaders also told Ofsted that they were concerned by the reduction in availability of work experience placements - and that students were missing the ability to put theoretical skills into practice. A few providers mentioned learners returning for an additional year because they could not set up transitional work placements.


Ofsted found that, for many leaders, effective assessment was a challenge, and that they were frustrated by assessment options within online modules and unable to check learners' depth of understanding due to limitations of the software. 

The previous briefing found that apprentices' end-point assessments had been a challenge for providers - but in the autumn term leaders told Ofsted that they had worked well with awarding bodies and employers to find remote approaches for EPAs to continue. Some staff said assessors had worked flexibly, including working in the evenings, so learners could finish their apprenticeships. However, where EPAs were not able to be completed remotely, leaders said that the waiting list for the test was growing. 

Ofsted also found that leaders had mixed views on awarding organisations and exam boards. Some felt they had worked together well, often in order to do remote EPAs. A few were unhappy with how awarding organisations had communicated with them. They described them as being slow to make decisions and felt that they were providing mixed messages. 

Face-to-face teaching 

Ofsted found that a few providers changed the way they taught during the second national lockdown to minimise the number of visits to sites. At one college, Year 12 and Year 13 students alternated between one week on site and one week of remote learning, while other providers changed timetables to ensure face-to-face teaching was concentrated over one day, rather than spread out across the week.

Other leaders said that they were having to restrict their intake on practical courses to be able to run them on site, while a few were forced to return to fully remote education because their community venues had been closed.

Providers prioritised students in different ways: some prioritised courses with high levels of practical study, while others prioritised vulnerable learners. 

Financial pressures

Providers told Ofsted that financial pressures continue to affect them, with ongoing costs like Covid-19 safety requirements, improving ventilation of buildings, buying IT kit for learners and providing software and equipment for learners to access their courses online. Staff at several providers mentioned negative impacts on their finances as a result of the pandemic. 

Providers were suffering from reduced commercial income, and some said that waiting for the funding for new learners had more of a financial impact than usual because they have less capital in reserves to fall back on.

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