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Employer Providers and Ofsted Inspection

 Any provider who has ‘had the call’ from Ofsted will know that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as the reality dawns on you that your whole world is about to be turned upside down as you are scrutinised for days.  This blog aims to demystify the process of an Ofsted inspection and set out what you can do to prepare for a visit.  It includes some useful practical tips and even explains how you can anticipate a visit before it has happened! 

When will you be inspected?

If you deliver apprenticeship training, you will be subject to inspection from Ofsted.  

An inspection may take the form of a monitoring visit which, if you are new provider since April 2017, will be conducted within 24 months of starting to deliver funded training.  

A full inspection is usually conducted between 15 and 24 months after a monitoring visit.  Further inspections take place on average every 4 years thereafter, but this can vary dependent on the level of perceived “risk”.

What is an Ofsted inspection?

An Ofsted inspection is carried out on-site (that’s your site) by professional inspectors of apprenticeships (not schools) and will normally last for 3 or 4 days although some can be as short as 2 days.  The inspection will look at the overall effectiveness and quality of your training, with a clear focus on the impact on the learner, in terms of technical skills and knowledge, their learning experience, behaviours, employability and progress within the workplace.  Inspectors will look at the appropriateness of the training, i.e. how relevant it is to the employer and the role, the curriculum and the wider social impact.  Inspectors will spend a lot of time with trainers / tutors / assessors to get a real feel for the quality and relevance of programmes and their delivery.  And they will also look at your data and how it is used to inform quality improvement.  In essence, an inspection is a litmus test for the robustness of your quality improvement processes and how they impact the future careers of your learners.

Ofsted will want to see how you deal with and can provide evidence of the following:

  • Commitment Statement
  • Off-the-job and on-the-job hours and activities
  • Curriculum planning and intent
  • Assessment / review
  • Preparation for gateway
  • Career planning
  • Apprentice destinations

The inspection will result in a published report that will be publicly available, normally within 4-5 weeks of the end of the inspection.

How much notice will you be given before an inspection?

Normally, Ofsted will notify you via email 2 working days before an inspection will commence (unless the inspection is unannounced).  Once you have received this email, you will then be contacted by the lead inspector – it’s a good idea at this stage to have a senior member of staff who can act as the nominated link between staff and the inspectors.

Hopefully you will already be aware that Ofsted is operating under a new Education Inspection Framework (EIF), which has altered the way that your provision is inspected.  So, at the very least, you should familiarise yourself now, if you haven’t already, with the new EIF and the key themes that run through it.

Can you anticipate an Ofsted inspection?

In short, YES!

  • At any time since you started delivering training, you should expect a monitoring visit.  Ofsted expect that your quality of training should be at least good from day one; however they usually take place within the first 24 months after you start to deliver funded training.
  • If it’s been at least 15 months since you had a monitoring visit, you should expect a full inspection, unless you had one or more insufficient progress judgements against you, in which case you can expect a full inspection to  take place within 6 to 12 months.
  • If it’s been 4 years since your last full inspection, you should expect your next one. If you currently have a grade of “Requires Improvement”, the follow-up inspection will usually take place within 18 months.
  • If you have noticed a sustained dip in your outcomes or other performance (i.e. retention or achievement rates have dropped), you should expect to be contacted by Ofsted.

Note:  If you are an Independent training Provider and achieve an “Inadequate” (Grade 4) for Overall Effectiveness, it is highly likely that the ESFA will terminate your contracts and RoATP registration.

Before the inspection visit.

You will receive a pre-inspection briefing letter that sets out what you can expect during the inspection and the lead inspector will also set up a telephone planning meeting to discuss how you will make information available to inspectors.

It’s important to note that inspectors are looking for working documents that reflect your normal practices, and not documents that have been pre-prepared specifically for the inspection!

Have a plan.

Having a plan that you can put into action when you are notified of an inspection visit will really help.  The inspection visit can last anything from 2 to 4 days depending on your size and the number of learners and you should use the notice period you’ve been given to help you with your preparations.  Make sure you have:

  • Internal communications that you can disseminate quickly to all stakeholders so that they are aware of the inspection visit and what their role is during the visit;
  • All of your relevant stakeholders available for the duration of the visit – individuals may need to cancel pre-arranged appointments to accommodate this;
  • Meeting rooms available for the duration of the visit – you may have to move, reschedule or cancel other pre-planned meetings to accommodate your inspection visit so it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan in place and remember, not all meetings require everyone to be in the same room.  Consider using online conferencing facilities or telephone dial in numbers and test these before you use them to make sure there are no last minute glitches;
  • Made any specific arrangements necessary for the inspectors to be on site such as necessary security clearances or chaperones for the duration of their visit;
  • Created a folder or space on your server where you can store or create links to documents and information, infact anything that might be useful before, during and after the inspection.  Having a central repository will save you time.  Make sure all relevant staff know about the folder and can access it and remember to store anything else that you’ve been asked to provide during the course of the inspection as it will help you prepare for the next one;
  • Made the inspectors aware of any location specific requirements or things they may need to bring with them to get access to your location during the inspection;
  • Explained to the inspectors any key differences between the language they use and the language you use – for example, your apprentices may not be able to describe your safeguarding policy, but they may be aware of a suite of processes around lone working, overnight accommodation and equality that are described as individual policies and procedures but which essentially make up your safeguarding arrangements.

Put together an agenda, but be prepared to be flexible.

It’s a good idea to put together a structured agenda for the inspection visit that sets out where the inspectors will be (you may have multiple inspectors in different locations if you operate across multiple sites) and an outline of what they will be doing and who the internal lead is on that activity.  It’s also a good idea to schedule a standby lead, just incase your principal lead is sick or gets stuck in traffic on the day.  Inspectors will want to gather evidence both on and off site and the agenda should provide them with an opportunity to:

  • Observe teaching, training and assessment in practice;
  • Speak to trainers and apprentices about the training provided;
  • Scrutinise apprentices’ work;
  • Speak to apprentices;
  • Analyse records that show planning for, and monitoring of, apprentices individual progress;
  • Meet with apprentices, employers, staff and other key stakeholders (such as governors, councillors, trustees, partners) if appropriate;
  • Look at any apprentice and employer surveys you have conducted and understand how you use the information.

Some apprentices (and colleagues!!) can be nervous about speaking to inspectors.  It’s important to reassure them that they are human beings like the rest of us and are not out to trip them up or catch them out.  Rather than single out your best apprentices to talk to Ofsted, why not ask a small group of apprentices to attend an Ofsted inspector session together – they will feel more confident and the inspector will get a better sense of what it means to be an apprentice with your organisation.

During the inspection.

At the end of the first day, get your team back together for a debrief.  Discuss what went well and what didn’t go so well and share best practice - talk about what you were not prepared for and how you dealt with it so that everyone else can learn from that.  Update everyone on anything that was added (or needs to be added) to the folder or space on your server and why.  Ensure someone takes copious notes at each evening’s “mop-up” meeting. These notes will be invaluable!!  And then apply the learning from day 1 so that you are better prepared for day 2.  Repeat this process until the last day of your inspection.

When it's all over.

You will have a meeting with the inspectors to summarise the findings and give you your provisional grade. This will be very much “hush-hush”, as the report is subject to Ofsted’s moderation process prior to publication.

The key thing following an inspection is to ensure you use the findings as the basis of any future plans. Let’s face it, you’ve potentially had 4 days’ free consultancy from a team of experts!

The inspection findings form a sound basis for improvement planning and a clear starting point for future self-assessment and analysis. 

Above all – don’t panic.  If you don’t get the feedback you were hoping for (and let’s face it, there’s always room for improvement), there are businesses and individuals who can help.

Useful links:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/inspecting-further-education-and-skills-guide-for-providers

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/risk-assessment-methodology-for-further-education-and-skills-providers

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/822103/Further_education_and_skills_handbook_July_2019.pdf

https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk

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