Inspectors' visits to colleges planned for the autumn will be "collaborative visits" different from inspections and will aim to "support the sector", Ofsted has said.
The inspectorate announced on Monday that it will carry out a programme of “visits” to FE providers, which will start in September. Its routine inspection regime is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, and is not due to restart until January.
Speaking to Tes today, Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills, Paul Joyce, stressed that the new visits were not inspections by another name. “There will be no grade judgement on those visits and we want them to be collaborative conversations with leaders and managers in colleges and providers,” he said.
Background: Ofsted puts school inspections on hold
“I certainly don’t want people to feel threatened by these visits,” he added. “It is us playing our part in the support for the sector to return to some sort of normal.”
Coronavirus: Ofsted to visit colleges in the autumn
However, he explained that in cases where the visits did find serious issues, the need for a follow-up visit or even a full inspection would be considered “on a case-by-case basis”.
For the visits, which will be piloted in early September and then rolled out more widely later that month, Ofsted will prioritise grade 3 and 4 providers, said Mr Joyce. But to ensure that the inspectorate obtains intelligence for a national picture from across the sector, some grade 1 and 2 providers will also be visited.
“We are going to ensure we get a geographic spread of providers and across the different provider types. We will probably favour the larger providers,” said Mr Joyce. A brief letter will be produced on the back of each report, he explained, and this will be published. The intelligence gathered would also contribute to a wider, national piece of work, he added.
“We have already had some discussions with the associations in the sector on what we are doing and why. We are doing pilots in early September. In the pilots, we will test our methodology before we start the visits in late September.”
The programme of visits had not been developed out of concern over the quality of provision following the outbreak of coronavirus, he said. “It’s clearly been a challenging time for everybody. I think the FE sector has done very well with online learning,” he added.
Mr Joyce said the visits were set up to reassure parents, carers and students that the sector was starting to return to a more normal mode of delivery.
The themes of the visits were still to be firmed up, said Mr Joyce, but the focus will be on the appropriateness of the curriculum offer that has been put in place; the delivery of learning and skills, including face-to-face delivery of classes and online learning; and safeguarding.
“I am hoping we are not going to find too many major problems. The idea of this is to gather intelligence. If we do find serious problems or issues, our job, as always, will be to report those and that is what we will do in those reports. If those are serious enough to [merit] a follow-up visit or even a full inspection, we will take that on a case-by-case basis.”
Visits will be shorted than an inspection, he said, but will vary depending on the provider involved. The inspectorate will also consider current health advice and specific requirements of individual providers.
“There might be institutions where it might not be appropriate for an inspector to go on site at all, in which case we won’t go on site.” The safety of students and staff, as well as inspectors, remained paramount, Mr Joyce said.