Ofsted battles to quell distrust

30th March 2007 at 01:00

OFSTED HAS admitted it faces a battle to win over businesses and private training firms as it takes over the role of inspecting them next week.

On April 1, the Adult Learning Inspectorate will be merged with Ofsted as part of a reorganisation that is expected to save pound;80 million a year.

David Sherlock, the departing chief inspector of the ALI, warned that private trainers may lose patience with the new inspectorate because it will not be able to offer all the ALI's support services to help training companies improve.

He said: "We produced an inspection service which obviously added value.

It's particularly important with businesses where what they get from government is only one of their revenue streams. If they don't like what you do, they will move away from government training."

Christine Gilbert, chief inspector of Ofsted, admitted the responses from employers who had been consulted were "not very positive". She said: "I think we do have a way to go in terms of hearts and minds, particularly with some of the employers. That will be a close focus of the organisation.

They saw it as an Ofsted takeover, and Ofsted is focused mainly on schools.

We have to take pains to explain that's not the case.

"That said, we are not an improvement organisation. We want to improve things, but we really do see organisations taking charge of their own improvement."

Instead of offering support directly, Ofsted will gather examples of good practice and pass this to the Quality Improvement Agency, which will work with training companies and employers. She said almost all the former ALI inspectors were transferring to the new organisation, maintaining its expertise. Having one organisation inspecting education from the age of four to adulthood would also be more coherent, she said.

Mr Sherlock said he was proud of the achievements of the ALI, which over six years saw unsatisfactory provision in work-based learning drop from 60 to 10 per cent. But he said concerns from the Treasury meant that inspection and support for improvement had to be separated, which put the ALI in jeopardy. "It was Enron that did it. The notion developed from financial institutions that being both a consultant and an auditor was a bad thing in principle."

He said the new inspectorate would be less independent than the ALI. Ofsted is part of government while the ALI had an independent board. And he criticised the definition of adult learning as just gaining qualifications for work.

"If you look at countries which are at the top of the tree economically, they are creative, they're nice places to live, they are civilised and they attract people to work there," he said. "Most of these are culture issues, not just about skills. Too narrow a definition of adult learning restricts learning which contributes to the culture."

Mr Sherlock, who is forming his own consultancy and writing a book about quality improvement, said he plans to be outspoken about further education as an ex-chief inspector, "But not to do Woodheadian whistling in the dark," he said.

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