What is Ofsted?

Ofsted is the inspection body, run by the Department of Education, who inspect schools, nurseries, Further Education and apprenticeships.

They inspect to the Education Inspection Framework, which is published and available to look at. Different parts of Ofsted inspect different types of education – so we were inspected by the Further Education and Skills inspectors who are different from the inspectors that look at schools.

It’s fair to say that there has been a huge amount of criticism about Ofsted, which we will discuss later.

Is Ofsted the only body that regulates the College?

If only! All apprentice training providers have to be accepted onto the Register of Apprentice Training Providers (RoAPT). We have had three full acceptance processes since 2018. This is an in-depth investigation that looks at whether we are financially stable and also asks a series of questions about our tutors, how we run our apprenticeships, and how we monitor our quality.

We are also regulated by the Educations and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) who ensure that we are spending money on training properly – as apprenticeships are in essence funded by tax payer money, the ESFA ensure there is value for this money. We are audited by them (our last audit was in 2020-21) and we submit our financial returns to them every year.

As strategic partners of the CIM and CIPR we have accreditation meetings with them, again to check quality. Plus we are accredited Highfield Qualifications  for our Maths and English Functional Skills qualifications and the British Computer Society for our Digital Marketing apprenticeship, so we meet their standards too.

Ofsted however is the one most people will have heard of, because they inspect schools.

So what does Ofsted look at?

There are 5 headings that Ofsted use and only one of these is ‘Quality of Education’ which might be the one you’d expect them to be focusing on.

The headings are Safeguarding – which is separate and over-arching and clearly extremely important. Safeguarding is either adequate or inadequate.

The other four headings are given equal weight in the inspection and are:

  • Behaviour and Attitudes
  • Personal Development
  • Quality of Education
  • Leadership and Management (which is hard as a leader not to take personally).

Each of these is given a grade of Inadequate, Requires Improvement, Good or Outstanding.

These are then combined to give an overall grade, which in our case is Good Provider.

What happens in an Inspection?

It began the Friday morning before the inspection, with a call from Ofsted to say that they were coming the next week. We then had a 2 hour call with the Lead Inspector for our inspection, who was very clear about what he wanted such as a complete list of all our apprentices, a list of teaching sessions, all our policies, and lots of other documents.

we were very touched by the amount of messages of support we received.

From the Tuesday morning, we had 6 inspectors who were with us for 4 days, so 24 working days of effort. Ofsted sends a survey to all of our apprentices, tutors and employers and gives them about 36 hours to complete it. We were overwhelmed that a third of our apprentices and a high proportion of our employers filled in the questionnaire despite this short turn around.

What is it like to be inspected?

to have six people crawling over your organisation for four days would be stressful for anyone

It’s very stressful. The process is clear and our Lead Inspector was very clear in what was going on and what they were finding.

However, if you have 6 people crawling over your business, talking to your staff, speaking to your customers, asking questions, it is stressful.

For a leader, you are checking staff welfare as well as discussing Ofsted’s findings, and you have Ofsted meetings to attend twice a day. In addition, you have in-depth meetings with the inspectors about your role as the CEO.

What are the criticisms of Ofsted?

It’s fair to say that Ofsted has suffered a lot of reputational damage. A headteacher, Ruth Perry, sadly took her own life earlier this year having had an Ofsted inspection that downgraded her school to Inadequate. This has generated a huge amount of negative comments, with other head teachers explaining how stressful they found inspections. Stories of Head teachers having heart attacks, panic attacks, and leaving the profession have led to people challenging the whole Ofsted process, in particular the grading.

Parents will look at the Ofsted single grading to decide whether to send their children to a school and teaching staff will decide if they want to work there. For apprenticeships, employers will naturally look at the Ofsted grade to choose a training provider. So the whole institution becomes fixated on a single work grade.

From a marketing perspective what is the College saying about its Ofsted grade?

Two months ago, this would be a simple answer - we celebrate.

In the backlash against Ofsted, some schools are refusing to display their Ofsted ratings so prominently. We considered carefully whether we should display our Good rating or be more muted.

However, as I said, we were very touched by all the support we received from employers, apprentices and our staff. Everyone pulled together to make the outcome Good. That doesn’t just happen, it takes a lot of work. We also felt that the inspection process was fair and transparent for us. We don’t agree with everything, but we do know how they came to their conclusions. Most of the criticism of Ofsted has been from schools and nurseries inspectorate, not the FE and Skills part of Ofsted who monitor us.

So, we have decided to speak about our Good rating whilst fully respecting those who are critical of the whole Ofsted inspection process.

You can hear our Apprentice Lead, Charlotte Lestienne, discussing the Ofsted process and outcome with me on our podcast