Quality and Ofsted

OFSTED – End of Term Report for 2019/2020 – ‘Between the Lines’

A new month brought us the annual report of the Chief Inspector. It also brought us the annual accounts which is worthy of a read – particularly the cost to the tax payer of the pensions which the OFSTED executive will be receiving into perpetuity but that is for another time. 

Whilst most of my observations and commentary is often aimed at Apprenticeship and Skills, it would be remiss not to look closely at the findings from the Annual report – after all I was once Chair of a pretty large MAT and remain interested in the role our Trust’s play in educating the leaders of the future. 

With over 3,000 inspections to state funded schools, together with additional research conducted in the year, some of the commentary interesting, albeit lost in the 90 odd pages:

  • With COVID – the stark reality is that most pupils received little or no online learning support during the COVID period – despite the much lauded publicity about the support that was being provided to pupils across all age groups. This certainly gels with discussions I have had with many parents where the lack of support, communication and learning taking place has been stark. Contrast that with the main stream media who paint a very different picture of those on the ‘front line’ – but most importantly it shows the stark reality that our Schools remain with much to do in embracing modern ED Tech to support a generation of pupils who have been brought up with the digital age. 
  • I am most disappointed that the report makes NO mention within the Schools or MAT settings about CAREERS or GATSBY. I have read the report twice and cannot find one reference, not one. COVID has demonstrated the stark reality of the situation, our career system for those at Year 7 and above is wholly inadequate. Many young people receive little or no careers support- certainly during 2020 and whilst the Careers Hubs are working hard, with little focus from OFSTED or indeed Schools themselves at a strategic level means we are letting our young people down massively and what a waste of some of the £bn’s of resources we devote to our Schools. It’s really time that Schools consider this as part of their rationale, equal to the focus other performance scores.
  • Less than a page is devoted to the performance of MAT’s – with nearly 1,200 Trusts in operation, managing over 7,000 individual Schools it was stark that only three MAT evaluations took place during the year under review. In managing risk and ensuring effective governance, surely Trusts themselves should come under greater scrutiny or be provided with additional support. MAT’s have grown in the past five years significantly  – they are big businesses and nearly 50 of them will have turnover in excess of £100m each!

So the three messages for me from the Annual report for Schools are (a) preparing schools for the ED TECH revolution that is already with us (b) taking CAREERS seriously in the education of our next generation and (c) putting greater focus on the governance and performance of MAT’s rather than individual Schools. 

Turning to Skills, the report notes a decline in performance in Apprenticeships, coupled with an increase of over 60% of the number of providers since 2017 – although I suspect many of those new providers are not active – with a significant number of dormant RoATP registrations. 

  • It was good to note that ‘Good governance was one of the key areas that helped CLS providers continue to improve this year, whereas it was missing from some ILPs that were not able to improve’. ‘We saw in some ILPs that governance was not in place or was not sufficiently challenging in holding senior leaders to account to identify the aspects of the provision that needed to be improved. We also saw leaders, managers and the governance function not moving swiftly enough to implement the recommendations made at a new provider monitoring visit’.

We, and others have persistently promoted the role that Good Governance plays within an ILP of which most are small. The investment is relatively small and the benefits, particularly when under scrutiny can be significant. 

  • Nearly ¼ of all new providers ‘failed’ their monitoring visit and would have been placed on a stop for new enrolments (with some notable exceptions). There was a not surprising correlation of new provider monitoring visits to subsequent full inspections, with those struggling at new provider visits, generally not achieving a GOOD or OUTSTANDING grade at the full inspection
  • What the report doesn’t tell you is the number of providers that were judged not to be making sufficient progress at a monitoring visit who subsequently ‘threw in the towel’ so to speak in terms of no longer trading. The number is high, given the impact that a suspension of starts has on business operations and cash flow. 
  • The report is silent on the outcome of monitoring visits with employer providers – many of them major employers or public sector employers, including Universities. A review of such reports doesn’t make good reading but we are used to data being used selectively in the past 9 months ago many Government Agencies. The correlation of poor monitoring and suspension of starts for none ILP providers paints an interesting picture. 

The ‘new’ RoATP or equivalent cannot come quick enough. I only hope providers are working now to prepare themselves for success because there will certainly not be 1,900 providers in the sector, this time next year.

  • The report shows strong performance by other Skills Providers including Colleges but a decline in the Independent Learning Provider sector. Statistically, this cannot be disputed but masks the level of ‘first’ inspections on ILP’s compared with others. 
  • The report says little about the level of ‘online learning’ or ‘supported learning’ taking place during COVID. Whilst reports of a widespread move to online learning have been made, it is surprising that OFSTED don’t have data to support or indeed refute this. Whilst all providers will have done their based, the promote-ed team hear of many examples of learners having little or no contact for months on end from their respective provider. 

So another year has passed, OFSTED has cost us over £140m this past year and whilst there have been challenging times during 2020, much work needs to be done. I have always supported the work and indeed conduct of OFSTED, I have always found them professional and courteous in their work, which is difficult for them and for those on the receiving end of things. 

As we enter a new Normal, it would be good to see OFSTED challenging more the fundamentals about what education and skills is all about – it all feels that OFSTED mark the examination script but never challenge whether the correct questions are actually being asked – taking Supporting CAREERS as just one example. 

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