Ofsted cuts FE team in radical restructure

7th August 2015 at 01:00
Watchdog loses more than 100 roles as inspection moves in-house

Ofsted has culled more than 100 FE inspector roles - a third of its workforce in the sector - as part of bringing all inspection staff in-house, TES can reveal.

From September, all Ofsted inspectors will be employed directly by the watchdog. Until now, the majority have been supplied by three external firms: Tribal, Serco and CfBT. The inspectorate has claimed that the radical restructure will lead to it retaining only the "very best and most current inspectors".

In June, Ofsted revealed that it was purging 1,200 inspectors - 40 per cent of the total number contracted by the three companies to inspect all kinds of educational establishments.

But this is the first time that Ofsted has revealed exactly how many inspectors of FE colleges and skills providers have lost their jobs in the overhaul.

Figures from the watchdog, obtained by TES, show that out of the 312 FE inspectors who applied to stay on, just 199 (64 per cent) were successful. Among the rest, 32 per cent failed the selection process, with 4 per cent of the inspectors withdrawing their applications.

Quality and consistency

A spokesman for Ofsted said the move would create a "smaller, more manageable inspection workforce" and the body had "deliberately selected the very best and most current inspectors to continue to increase the quality, consistency and impact of Ofsted's inspection work".

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges, said it was encouraging that Ofsted's new slimmed-down team would include a higher proportion of serving practitioners.

"Placing college staff at the frontline of inspections will help to encourage two-way feedback between inspectors and practitioners," he added.

But it was vital for Ofsted to ensure "consistency across all inspection judgements in the coming year, recognising what good teaching, learning and assessment looks like, alongside the situation of the individual college and the community it supports," Mr Corke argued.

A spokesman for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said it was important for Ofsted to appreciate the nature of different kinds of education, particularly work-based learning such as apprenticeships.

"Whatever the number of inspectors, we hope that Ofsted's new team will include those with a good understanding of work-based learning at a time when a new common inspection framework is being introduced and the skills sector is going through a period of fundamental change," he added.

The spokesman also welcomed "very positive" changes to Ofsted's complaints process, with the introduction of regional scrutiny committees to consider complaints raised by dissatisfied providers.

"For independent training providers, for whom a grade 4 [inadequate judgement] can automatically mean a loss of contract and hence the possible closure of the business, this is a crucial and welcome reform," he said.

Making the cut

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said Ofsted's inspection system had been "imperfect," but warned that "the devil will be in the detail" of how the new arrangements would work.

"We need to look carefully at what alternative inspections processes may evolve," she said. "Further pressure on already hard-pressed staff will do nothing to raise standards. However, it is important that colleges must be accountable for their actions to their learners, local communities and government."

Pauline Hagen, principal of New College Pontefract, told TES that although the inspectors who had visited her college in the past had been "first class", the streamlining of Ofsted's pool of FE inspectors was welcome.

"I think it is a very positive move that this is being moved in-house, and that there has been a call for more serving practitioners [with] in-depth knowledge of the issues colleges are facing," she said.

The Ofsted spokesman stressed that the watchdog still had "confidence" in the inspectors contracted by the independent providers who had not made the cut.

"However, it is right that we move forward with those inspectors best equipped to deliver our new approach to education inspection, including a much higher proportion of serving good and outstanding school and college leaders," he said.

The move would also achieve better value for money and give the inspectorate greater control over "who inspects for us, how we train them and how they are deployed", the spokesman added.

`I welcome the increased rigour'

Back in 2012, Exeter College volunteered to take part in a pilot no-notice inspection and was rated outstanding. Two years later, the rating was rubber stamped in an official visit by Ofsted inspectors.

However, principal Richard Atkins (pictured), approves of Ofsted's overhaul of its inspection team, which he says will bring "increased rigour" to the process.

"Rightly or wrongly, an Ofsted inspection of a college remains the single most important indicator of the quality of a college," he says. "This is really important work, so I welcome the increased rigour that has been applied. I also welcome having a smaller workforce. That must make it easier to maintain consistent standards."

Ofsted should also focus on improving the training given to its lead inspectors and on encouraging college principals and teaching staff to become inspectors, Mr Atkins adds. "I hope among the 199 [remaining] inspectors, there are a good number or existing practitioners from colleges, and particularly college managers. I don't think we have had enough of them in recent years."

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