To say that the further education and skills sector has been under pressure of late would be an understatement, but I have been impressed by the sector’s resolve to do well by learners. As Ofsted’s deputy director for FE, I want to support providers in making this a key focus.
In September, Ofsted introduced a new common inspection framework for early years, schools and FE providers. Some expressed concern, but the new inspection handbook has helped dispel fears and many have welcomed school sixth forms and colleges being judged under the same criteria. I am sure that the framework is achieving what it was set up to do: make inspections easier to understand and compare across provision and sectors.
The changes include awarding grades for different provision types; a new judgement grade for personal development, behaviour and welfare; and the introduction of short inspections for most providers judged to be “good” in previous inspections.
We now have greater emphasis on safeguarding – including providers’ response to the Prevent agenda – and ensure that inspectors focus on learners’ progress, opportunities and destinations. English and maths are as important as ever. And we have stopped giving grades to lessons. I am impressed by how quickly FE providers have responded to these changes.
The new short inspections are going well, and it’s great to see that the majority of providers remain “good”. Early results from full inspections, targeted mainly at providers who are not yet “good”, are mixed, but I’m pleased to see that the myths about “what Ofsted wants” are diminishing. To recap: we do not need to see lesson plans; we don’t have a preferred teaching style; and we do not want lots of files lodged in inspection base rooms. We want providers to treat inspection like any other day.
The decision to stop grading individual lessons was one that we mulled over for a long time. I remember the days when inspectors graded hundreds of lessons in large colleges. Armies of observers were spending too long trying to produce a “grade profile”. We risked giving the impression that the impact of teaching, learning and assessment could be condensed into a snapshot of one lesson.
So, we have combined observations of teaching and learning with a more rounded judgement on learners’ progress and the standard of their work, over time. This will help inspectors and providers to focus on the bigger picture.
The changes introduced last September have so far been successful and the sector has risen to the challenge. The feedback has been positive and I look forward to receiving more. We can always improve.
I am more than happy to answer in these pages any questions that readers may have about how Ofsted inspects. The more we can dispel any myths, the more we can ensure that everyone is focused on learners getting the best training and education possible.
Paul Joyce is Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills. If you have any questions for Ofsted, send them to @tesfenews on Twitter using the hashtag #AskOfsted or email firstname.lastname@example.org