Building a truly solid working relationship between Ofsted and the college sector – FE News
@Ofstednews Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman spoke at # AoCConf21, the Association of Colleges’ annual conference in Birmingham:
Hello, it’s great to see you today and it’s fantastic to be here in person in Birmingham – after far too long limited to Teams and Zoom.
I would like to start this afternoon with a few thoughts on a very eventful year in teaching and a difficult time for colleges. We all talk about “recovery” these days, but that doesn’t mean the challenges are over. I know how much you want to be full-time educators and not part-time COVID managers.
So I want to talk about the road ahead and as part of that I want to explain the role Ofsted will play along the way. I want to talk to you about some of the changes in our work as a result of the expenditure review. And I also want to leave a little time at the end to listen to what you have to say and hopefully answer a few questions.
The impact of the pandemic has been and continues to be the biggest problem for the education sector. It has been an amazing year and I would like to start by saluting the tremendous effort, ingenuity and dedication shown throughout the industry.
And we saw it up close. Although our routine inspections were suspended last year, we have maintained a presence in nurseries, schools and colleges.
Whether it was through researching how the industry was responding to the pandemic, or visiting establishments and speaking directly with executives, we have kept ourselves abreast of developments. And I hope we have also been able to provide a useful and constructive sounding board. When the pressure is on, it is often helpful to discuss ideas and challenges with a sympathetic and knowledgeable stranger.
I would like to thank the colleges for the way you have adjusted and adapted under such difficult circumstances. Colleges quickly embraced distance learning, perhaps because the concept wasn’t new to you. You were able to support students in computer science and internet access; you provided welfare advice and support to help students overcome uncertainty. At the end of the year, you have navigated the delicate waters of exams and assessments for your students and the uncertainty surrounding admissions for this year’s back-to-school year.
I think, and I hope you agree, that there is a very strong working relationship between Ofsted and the college sector; a true collaborative relationship that we have seen at work during the difficult times of the past year. I spoke of the visits that took place while the inspection was suspended. They laid the groundwork for a return to summer monitoring visits, which themselves were the stepping stone to a full inspection this quarter. Throughout, we have spoken with representatives of the college sector. And as we look to the future, this collaborative approach will help us shape inspection as the industry takes on new tasks – which I’ll come back to shortly. be handled with care and appropriately. It was very important for us to listen to your concerns, understand the difficulties you face and make sure that the inspection process takes everything into account. And we had to do this without weakening the rigor of the process, nor undermining the credibility of our judgments. Because the soft-pedal inspection would let down the people we and you really work for – the students. They saw their education forcibly cut short by COVID. And it is the responsibility of the entire education system, including Ofsted, to come together and help this cohort to realize its potential.
Because helping these learners realize their potential has enormous implications not only for individual advancement, but for the recovery, development and success of the country as a whole. It’s hard to overstate the importance of further education for a country emerging from lockdown cycles. It is difficult to stress the importance of upgrading the skills of our workforce as the country forges new economic and trade relations. And it’s hard to overstate, in the wake of COP26, the critical role of colleges in meeting the skills needs of cleaner and greener next generation industries.
With good reason, lifelong learning and skills remain high on the political agenda. In the expenditure review and the budget it was good to see the political recognition supported by new funding, which is a step in the right direction. The Skills Bill marks a new milestone and, as always, implementation will be key. Overall, however, there is no doubt that it is a busy time for continuing education and an exciting time to get involved in colleges.
I spoke about the importance of inspection in today’s climate. I think this is because the inspection not only provides an assessment of education today, it is also a barometer to help predict the weather to come. One of our most important roles is to gather and use evidence to advise ministers on the quality of supply in the sector and the impact of policy initiatives. From T-levels to boot camps – and across the gamut of education recovery, we’ll be gathering evidence to gauge progress. We have planned 2 thematic surveys, on skills training and T levels, but beyond that our inspections provide a mine of data that we are able to question and aggregate.
In the run-up to the expenditure review, we had discussed with the government how we could provide faster and more comprehensive education assurance throughout this critical period of recovery. The government, like us, wants to speed up our inspection cycles – so we can reduce the time it takes to inspect every school and college across England.
For Colleges, Sixth Year Colleges and Specially Designated Institutes, we have secured confirmation of funding that will allow us to reach each institution by 2025. In this cycle, we will not be undertaking brief inspections. – so every college, sixth-year college and SDI [specialist designated institution] will undergo a full inspection between next September and summer 2025. I am convinced that this is a positive development and one that will be welcomed by the industry. It follows discussions with the DfE on how the inspection can respond to the focus on local skill needs.
I am in favor of evaluating the extent to which colleges take into account local skills. We have had concerns about the discrepancies in the past between courses that are popular and courses that really open doors. There is a moral imperative here on two fronts – both to help the economy thrive and to present students with realistic paths. It is really important that we have a real idea of the local economy so that we can properly consider the contribution of the colleges. This work clearly does not lend itself to light touch inspection. We need full inspections, with some improvements, which I am glad the government has recognized.
I would add that we are already starting to pilot our methodologies for inspecting skills needs, and we will seek your advice. This is part of the value of our collaborative relationship with the EF sector.
These changes in the way we inspect colleges will obviously provide greater assurance to the industry as a whole. I hope you will also benefit from our curriculum-based approach and the professional dialogue between college leaders and inspectors. This dialogue is not only at the heart of the evaluation process, it also highlights opportunities for improvement and progress. The response to inspections under the new framework was very positive before COVID and the rest today – because of the dialogue that is at its heart.
We were convinced that the FEI was flexible enough to adapt to the current situation. We did a lot of pilot projects this past quarter and we are now seeing the results in colleges (and schools too). We talk to leaders about the impact of COVID in their colleges; we discuss the adaptations and adjustments that colleges have made, and it helps us understand what success looks like in each individual context.
The first reports of this quarter’s inspections are now starting to be published and they are certainly not alarming. You continue to perform well and get recognized for doing it.
This mandate, we are also starting to inspect previously exceptional institutions now that the exemption has been lifted. I was very open about what that would mean. Since 2012, we have a one-way valve attached to the exceptional quality. Thus, for a decade, we have accumulated exceptional institutions without reassessment. As inspectors return to colleges declared exceptional many years ago, they will inevitably find that some are now slowing down. But we are starting to see others rise through the ranks. And I am also confident that many outstanding colleges will have maintained their standards over the years and during the pandemic.
In fact, the first published report of our September inspections was from Sixth Form College Farnborough. Academy converter, its predecessor was inspected in 2007 and proved to be exceptional. Fourteen years later, he has maintained the best mark.
There are many siren voices that describe the education industry in the darkest terms. There is no doubt that the pandemic has hurt the education of millions of young people – and it continues to present serious challenges to staff working in our schools and colleges. But as we came back to a full inspection this quarter, we didn’t see a kneeling sector. Far from there. There is a resilience and a determination that we recognize and that should be nurtured. I want to thank all of you for the work you do and the huge difference you are making for individuals and communities across the country.
Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector, Ofsted
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