Ofsted's '236 questions' answer themselves

4th December 2009 at 00:00

At the Association of Colleges' annual conference in Birmingham last month, I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Frank Coffield speak about the importance of teaching as well as learning, and about the value of education in its broadest sense - not only qualification achievements.

I hope that, when reading Ofsted's new inspection framework, he appreciated the fact that it covers, in some detail, a wider approach to a variety of outcomes for learners that goes well beyond an analysis of success rates.

In communicating such differences in our new framework, Ofsted has provided the sector with a clear description of the key components of the inspection framework, linked to essential sources of evidence.

Most of the "236 questions" to which Professor Coffield refers ("Ofsted questions bring task to outdo Hercules", November 20) are, in fact, prompts for possible lines of enquiry that will help inspectors arrive at their overarching judgments. They are not to be seen as some kind of checklist, all requiring a response or an individual grade. Some will be more relevant than others when the learners, the setting and type of provision being inspected are taken into account.

Perhaps more concerning, though, is an assumption that teachers and managers, having been notified of their inspection, are put in an impossible position, hurriedly trying to gather evidence and find answers to all 236 questions in the three weeks prior to the first day of the inspection.

The reality, as the sector knows well, is that providers with robust processes of self-assessment cover all the key components in the framework on a regular basis. In doing so, they answer these "questions", and others of their own devising.

In fact, my understanding is that, far from finding the level of detail in the handbook excessive, colleges and providers of work-based learning find it of value, and many model their own self-assessment arrangements and quality improvement procedures on the guidance it provides.

Intelligent accountability is about colleges and providers taking responsibility for their own searching, rigorous and honest self- assessment. They should take action to make improvements and demonstrate to their learners, local employers and communities that they are delivering high-quality services day in, day out. Inspection is there to provide an independent external perspective that can both validate good practice and make recommendations on areas for improvement.

Ofsted has said clearly that "good" and "outstanding" colleges and providers will have less frequent inspections, while those that are "satisfactory" and "not improving" will be the focus of our attention.

And, for the record, the framework has 16 questions grouped under three main headings: outcomes for learners, quality of provision, and leadership and management. Two further overarching questions draw on responses to the 16 and arrive at judgments about capacity to improve and overall effectiveness.

Melanie Hunt, Director of development, learning and skills, Ofsted.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today