As part of our nationwide pilot programme, Ofsted has been testing the model for the new inspection methodology with several learning and skills providers.
Lewisham College in South East London was one of 18 providers that volunteered to take part in the trials. The college runs more than 600 courses for 13,000 students and has been judged ‘outstanding’ or ‘excellent’ by a range of independent organisations, including Ofsted.
A student learns fashion and clothing skills at Lewisham College
The inspectors visited The O2 arena in Greenwich to interview Train to Gain learners working towards qualifications in premises cleaning. They were among 300 students interviewed by the three-strong inspection team in just over two days.
‘The new framework places even greater focus on recording the views of learners while at the same time reducing the length of inspections’
‘We have always spoken to as many learners as we can during an inspection,’ says Vivien Bailey HMI, who led the pilot. ‘However, the new framework places even greater focus on recording the views of learners while at the same time reducing the length of inspections. This obviously sets us quite a challenge, especially with a large college like Lewisham with thousands of students, many of whom are not on campus every day. A key aim of the pilot programme was to help us develop more creative ways of inspecting in the time we have.’
One idea that proved a success was holding a lunchtime drop-in session where students could chat informally to one of the inspectors. ‘Nearly 70 students turned up,’ adds Vivien. ‘They were very keen to talk to us and took it very seriously. One of the students even offered to make notes for us of what everybody said. They found it fun and informative.’
The inspection team held further interviews with students and their assessors over the telephone and encouraged learners to send their views directly to Ofsted via email. They still used traditional inspection methods – touring the college’s facilities, observing lessons and looking through student portfolios – and will continue to assess ‘hard’ outcomes such as success rates. But gathering more learner feedback will also help inspectors fulfil the new framework’s requirement to measure ‘soft’ outcomes, such as whether learners are helped to improve their employability and whether they feel safe.
‘We leapt at the opportunity to participate in the pilot programme because we believe any kind of inspection will help us to improve our organisation'
Comments from learners will feature more prominently in Ofsted’s new-style inspection reports. In addition, future inspections will collect more opinions from other ‘users’, namely, parents, employers, partners and community groups.
Vice-principal Peter Mayhew-Smith says, ‘We leapt at the opportunity to participate in the pilot programme because we believe any kind of inspection will help us to improve our organisation. Our view is that the new framework is robust and fit for purpose and we welcome the emphasis it puts on learner feedback.’
Ofsted also visited Total People, one of the largest suppliers of work-based learning in the Midlands and North West of England. Founded in 2001, the company provides support and subsidised training to over 1,800 employers. Learners work towards vocational qualifications or apprenticeships, or enrol on courses ranging from accountancy and dental care to engineering.
Total People’s training is delivered through workshops, one-to-one sessions and e-learning, supplemented by regular assessment in the workplace.
‘We’re not simply trying to complete inspections with fewer resources. We are looking at different evidence and making different judgements, helping providers to really pinpoint where they need to make improvements’
An apprentice learns the art of bricklaying through Total People
For the pilot, two HMI and four associate inspectors completed the inspection in just four days. Total People’s previous inspection lasted two weeks and involved a team of 19 inspectors.
‘We were keen to participate,’ says associate director Janice Woolley. ‘It gave us an opportunity to look at the proposed standards and influence how they could be practically applied in a work-based learning setting.’
Total People organised a survey where learners and employers could send their comments, by post or email, direct to Ofsted in complete confidence. There were nearly 500 responses.
‘In the first two days we looked very closely at the learners’ experience,’ says lead inspector Ian Smith HMI. ‘In the second part of the inspection we focused on wider outcomes. We still interviewed a significant number of learners and employers, no fewer than before, but we’re not simply trying to complete inspections with fewer resources. We are looking at different evidence and making different judgements, helping providers to really pinpoint where they need to make improvements.’
‘We were pleasantly surprised by how much they were able to achieve in the time they had. We thought some of their recommendations were really useful and we welcome the greater emphasis of the new inspection model on equality and diversity’
Other key differences between the old framework and the proposed one include grades for equality and diversity, safeguarding and value for money that will contribute to the ratings on leadership and management. Inspection reports are also being revamped and will contain detailed recommendations rather than listing areas for improvement. Current practices that will continue include the four-point grading scale and the use of self-assessment reports.
‘We agree with the idea of shorter inspections in principle but we thought there weren’t going to be enough inspectors to assess the size and scope of our provision,’ admits Janice Woolley. ‘We were pleasantly surprised by how much they were able to achieve in the time they had. We thought some of their recommendations were really useful and we welcome the greater emphasis of the new inspection model on equality and diversity. In the main, it’s a strong framework, and we welcome the retention of the focus on sector subject areas which we feel enables inspectors to evaluate teaching and learning in more detail.’