From education to employment

Looking to the Future for FE and Skills​

In this article, we talk with Paul about the past and looking to the future of FE and Skills.

Q. We recently had the Ofsted Annual report. From a FE and Skills perspective, what are the positives for you and the sector to take away and build upon?

There were some very positive signs that the sector is heading in the right direction.

I was delighted to see that many providers had an ambitious curriculum that motivated students and, through high quality teaching, they were able to learn, progress and achieve.

It was also particularly pleasing to see such positive inspection outcomes for learners in 16 to 19 academies, and in sixth form and general further education colleges, where we saw an increase in good and outstanding judgements when compared to previous years.

It was also great to see a higher proportion of providers receiving a good or outstanding judgment at their first inspection compared to previous years.

 I hope this continues so more and more learners and apprentices can benefit from high quality training and education in independent learning providers.

Q. Where are the main areas of improvement highlighted in the annual report for FE and Skills?  

There is still some work to do in a number of areas.

Too many new providers are not making sufficient progress at their first monitoring visit.

Our interim T level survey report identifies the areas for improvement required on these relatively new courses.

And our skills bootcamp report shows that some providers are not doing all they should be to secure high-quality training, work placements and job interviews for their learners.

We need to ensure high quality training and education in all these providers to fill skills gaps and meet the workforce challenges that exist for employers and in the economy.

And we must not forget prison education. Unfortunately we are seeing a continuing decline in the quality of prison education, which urgently needs addressing.

Q. Can we talk about improvements needed in Education for inmates in Prison? Your recent annual report and research on reading in prisons last year highlight some alarming findings, particularly around literacy and reading in Prisons. What is the way forward to support Prison Education?

This is a serious situation, and you are right to say the findings from our work in this area are alarming. The quality of education in prisons was not as good as it should be before the pandemic, but significant delays in reinstating education courses following the lockdown have exacerbated the problems.

The simple fact of the matter is that education is not sufficiently prioritised within the prison regime. Our joint review with HMIP on reading in prisons found that prisons are not giving enough priority to teaching prisoners to read, and that reading is not a distinct part of the core education offer.

In terms of the way forward, I think that a better assessment of a prisoner’s learning needs, including their reading ability, would be a good start. This would help identify knowledge gaps and hopefully provide insight into how teachers can tailor activities to close them. But of course, this is only one of the actions needed to secure the improvements necessary. More fundamental system change is required to ensure education gets the priority it deserves within the regime.

Q. Your report highlighted that Bootcamps needed more direction, particularly CPD and interview / job outcomes. What solutions and ways forward do you suggest for Bootcamps?

Although they are short courses, skills bootcamps can play a big part in a learner’s long-term career.

When done right, they can be a great way to fill skills gaps, but, as stated in our report, we are seeing issues in some providers where the quality of teaching is not good enough and where guaranteed interviews, that are an expectation of the programme, are not provided.

The way forward here is to ensure that staff teaching these bootcamps are trained appropriately and for leaders and managers to ensure strong links with employers that need to fill skilled job vacancies. Providers need a clear understanding from these employers about what knowledge, skills and behaviors need to be developed so that learners are then, after training, able to confidently attend interviews and demonstrate their competence to secure employment.

Q. What were the main findings and recommendations for T Levels? They are still pretty new, what recommendations or areas of improvement would you like to highlight?

T levels are relatively new, and we found that providers had worked hard to give students a positive learning experience. Our interim report noted many strengths with students generally positive about their experiences. We found high quality resources in many providers, and in the best examples teaching staff worked well with employers and work placement providers to plan and sequence the curriculum effectively.

We did find some areas for improvement around engagement between employers and work placement providers. There were instances where work placements were not as beneficial or tailored as they could have been. We also found some concerns about assessment and about the amount of work, and in some cases the level of work, that was expected.

We are about to start our next round of visits to T level providers, and we will look to see how providers have addressed some of the areas for improvement we identified during our first visit. We will be publishing our final report at the end of the year.

Q. What three things would you recommend to all providers that will make long term impactful change to their organisation and for learners?

What a great question – I think the most important thing for any provider is to always strive to do the best they can for their learners, but if you want three specifics:

  • Embrace technology and invest in high quality resources
  • Build links with employers and work placement providers
  • Support staff to continually improve 

Q. Delivery and the business model of Colleges, ITPs, Sixth Form, T Level, Bootcamp and Employer Providers are all slightly different. What tips would you want to share to help people with continual improvement?

I agree that business models may be different for different types of providers and provision, but ultimately the purpose, the end goal, is the same – to ensure learners get high quality education and training so they can progress to their next step, whatever that may be.

Continual improvement should be the focus of any provider – what could they do better, and what do they need to do to improve.

Providers should be learner focused and should concentrate on ensuring the learner experience is positive, that students learn the knowledge, skills, and behaviours they need in order to progress and achieve. The curriculum is at the heart of the learner journey and the learner experience – providers should continually evaluate the effectiveness of their curriculum and how well that curriculum is taught.

Q. If you could recommend one thing, what is a key takeaway for Providers to implement or continue with in 2023?

For me the key takeaway is to continue focusing on identifying and filling gaps in learners’ knowledge, skills and behaviours. Many students still have gaps in their learning because of the pandemic and we owe it to them to continue to support them to achieve and progress.

Q. Many providers dread or feel really stressed out by an Ofsted inspection. If you had one tip, when a Provider hears that Ofsted are imminently arriving for an inspection, what would you recommend as the best course of action for the Senior Leadership team and delivery staff?

I hope that providers don’t dread or feel really stressed by inspection – there really is no need to, but I do understand that some providers may be apprehensive. The best advice I can give any senior leader, teacher or staff member is to view the inspection as an opportunity to demonstrate how good the provider is. We don’t want providers to be stressed and dread inspections. Our purpose is to work with providers, not against them, so we can achieve the best possible outcomes for learners.

Q. How can Ofsted encourage a continual improvement culture in the FE and Skills sector? If we were professional athletes, we would constantly be looking to improve and seeking marginal gains for improvement in our performance. How can we adopt this high-performance coaching culture in FE and Skills to improve our delivery for learners and employers?

I am a strong believer in improvement through inspection and that is why I do my job. We strive to ensure our framework, handbook and practices reflect the ever-changing landscape in the sector. We are always listening and taking feedback in order to form the best picture possible of what needs to improve in the sector and how we can assist with that change.

The athlete analogy is a good one. Athletes are always looking for ways to improve and providers should do the same – a continuous honest evaluation of all aspects of work is key to being able to identify and make the changes necessary to do things even better.

Learners deserve to have the best support possible while studying and it is important that teachers and trainers are fully supported so they can do the best they can for their learners.

By Paul Joyce, Deputy Director, Further Education & Skills, Ofsted

Paul Joyce is one of His Majesty’s Inspectors and is the Deputy Director for Further Education & Skills. Paul joined Ofsted in 2005 as HMI having previously worked within the Further Education and Skills sector in both general and specialist further education colleges.

Immediately before working for Ofsted, Paul was a consultant for the former Department for Education and Skills and worked on national initiatives supporting improvements to teaching and learning and in leadership and management.

Paul has significant inspection experience in both the schools and further education & skills remits and prior to being appointed Deputy Director was a Senior HMI with responsibility for the college inspection programme nationally.

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