Ofsted opens up inspection to debate

A visit from the inspectors is set to become a more familiar experience in poorly performing colleges, under new Ofsted proposals.

Steve Hook

But for high-performing colleges, the time between inspections could now be up to six years.

Ofsted is also considering reducing the notice periods for its visits and looking into whether it could introduce "on the spot" inspections.

The plans are laid out in Ofsted's new consultation document, which argues for a "more focused approach" to inspecting the further education system.

The document says the proposals are designed to increase the impact of inspections and make them more "coherent, rigorous and targeted".

Under the proposals, colleges judged to be satisfactory in their last inspection would be inspected at least every four years.

Those found to be inadequate would get a re-inspection monitoring visit within six to eight months to assess progress, followed by a full re- inspection six to seven months later.

Inspectors would focus on a college's capacity to improve and whether it provided good value for money.

There would be an increased focus on the progress made by different groups of students, including those most likely to underachieve, the most vulnerable and the most able.

Ofsted also said it hoped to reduce notice periods to "the shortest practicable length" of time and that it would be "exploring whether `no notice' inspections are feasible".

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said the current cycle of inspections in FE came to an end in the summer of 2009: "Ofsted has, therefore, reviewed arrangements for further education and skills inspections to ensure they are well-matched to the needs of users and the quality of the service, and that they develop our ability to target inspections where they will make the most difference."

Ofsted will be consulting on the plans, and there will be a series of pilot inspections over the coming academic year.

Evidence gathered from the trials and from the consultation will be used to draw up guidance on how Ofsted plans to change the way inspections are conducted.

The consultation period ends on January 26.

- www.ofsted.gov.ukOfsted-homeConsultations.

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