The latest Ofsted myth is English and maths bias

22nd July 2016 at 00:00

It has been a few weeks since I last wrote in TES. During this time, I’ve been out and about at various conferences, speaking directly with colleagues working in the FE sector.

Opportunities like these are a great way of keeping up a dialogue between Ofsted and the sector; they enable me to keep in touch with developments and share the latest Ofsted findings with providers. This really goes to the core of what we do.

I recently met members of UKFEchat for a discussion at Ofsted HQ. It was great to talk openly about the challenges facing the sector, as well as the successes we’ve seen. I appreciate that feelings towards the inspectorate can vary and I’m always keen to set the record straight on what we do – and do not do. But one thing all of us in the room agreed on was that dialogue between inspectors and providers is crucial, not only during these types of standalone engagements but also during the inspection itself.

I don’t want to see instances where inspectors deliver their findings and leaders begrudgingly accept them, knowing deep down there were extra things they could have highlighted. Inspectors want to hear your story. If you feel that they don’t have the full picture, then tell them that.

As I mentioned, I’m always keen to dispel myths about the inspection process. I appreciate that we need to keep on quashing misconceptions, while remaining vigilant against any newly developing ones. The current “myth of the month” seems to revolve around English and maths.

We’re all aware of the increased emphasis these subjects have been given in recent years and we should be working to ensure all young people are proficient in these essential skills. It’s true, Ofsted now gives greater consideration to how well providers are teaching learners English and maths. But there is a misconception about just how much weighting we place on these subjects. Yes, they’re important. Yes, providers should strive to teach them well. But will poor provision lead to an automatic downgrading? Definitely not.

When inspectors go into a college or provider, they will look at learners’ whole experience before reaching an overall judgement. This includes the effectiveness of leadership, the quality of teaching and learner attainment, and whether learners are safe. If a provider is underperforming in English and maths, and goes on to get a poor Ofsted judgement, I guarantee that there are other factors contributing to the judgement.

I would hate to think that this myth was encouraging providers to focus resources on two subjects at the expense of the rest of their provision. Inspectors will never discount good work in other areas purely on the basis of English and maths.

A lot of myths contribute to the misconception that inspectors focus only on procedure. But we’re much more interested in outcomes than how you get there. Another example is lesson plans. Inspectors are interested in the progress that learners are making in lessons and over time, not the lesson-plan template itself. We evaluate impact, not paperwork.

The same applies for things like Prevent. Ofsted recently published its survey report on how well providers were implementing the duty. The report makes clear that this shouldn’t be a “tick-box” exercise. Inspectors want to see that learners and staff alike know how to remain vigilant against extremism.

If there’s one message I would like sector colleagues to take away with them, it’s that Ofsted’s primary focus is on impact and outcomes. As long as providers are doing right by their learners and ensuring they make good progress, then they have nothing to fear from inspection.

Paul Joyce is Ofsted’s deputy director for FE and skills

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