Ofsted launches research into subcontracting in FE

The inspectorate says that visits to subcontractors will inform its understanding of this key part of the FE landscape

Ofsted has announced a research project into subcontracting in FE

Ofsted is to carry-out prearranged visits to subcontractors that have contracts with further education providers that it has recently inspected as part of new research into subcontracting.

The inspectorate launched the research project today. It will look at the subcontracting landscape within FE.

In its announcement, Ofsted said that subcontracting remained a popular option for FE providers, and last academic year, accounted for about £650 million in government funding for adult learning and apprenticeship provision as well as fully or partially funded courses for more than 25,000 students aged 16 to 19.


Background: Providers shouldn't top-slice more than 20 per cent for subcontracting

News: Rules around subcontracting under review

Read more: 'Outstanding' FE providers to lose Ofsted exemption


'Good' or 'outstanding'

Ofsted pointed out that most FE providers were judged as 'good' or 'outstanding' at their last inspection, adding that, since February 2018, it had increased its focus on “the management and quality of subcontracted provision during inspections, and this increased focus continues in our new education inspection framework (EIF)”.

Ofsted said: “A subcontractor’s offering cannot be disentangled from the contract agreed with the main provider. Therefore, we place responsibility for learners’ experiences on the main provider and do not directly inspect standalone subcontractors. This research will explore the relationship between the main provider’s contracting arrangements and the quality of provision offered by subcontractors.”

The aim of the research, Ofsted said, was to learn more about the subcontracting landscape and “the impact that a contract between a main provider and subcontractor can have on the learning experience”. The inspectorate added: “The research will also inform how we inspect main providers that choose to use subcontracted provision.”

This autumn, Ofsted will carry out prearranged visits to a variety of subcontractors that have contracts with FE providers that it has recently inspected. At the same time, it will examine previous inspection reports for references to subcontracting, and hold focus groups with inspectors about the process of evaluating subcontracted learning.

“Visits are not inspections and will not result in a written report for the subcontractor,” said Ofsted.

Ofsted's deputy director for FE and skills, Paul Joyce, said: “We made a commitment to increase our focus on subcontracting, which remains a major part of the FE landscape. I hope this research will give us more insight into the experience learners get at a provider, which in turn will help us refine this part of our inspection work.

“We will work with subcontractors who take part in the research to make sure we do not place an additional burden on staff. All visits will be carried out purely for research purposes and will not double up as inspections. This research is part of our commitment to be a force for improvement in the sectors we inspect, and to make sure that everything we do is supported by evidence.”

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