How quickly the world doth change! And on the whole, Britain needs to be far more adaptable to the changes in demands, from learners, trainers, employers and the marketplace. It is a global economy that we exist in, after all; and thus far more competitive particularly in knowledge based industries.

And so, if Britain is to remain in its current position of the fourth largest economy in the world "“ or even maintain a relative position of strength "“ attention must be paid not just to the classroom, but also to how the classroom is judged. An effective inspection regime should provide a guarantee to both the learners (who will feel satisfied that they are getting adequate training due to good inspection practices and reports) and to the training providers (whose livelihood can often depend on an inspector's nod).

But is this what we have?

Value in Inspection "“ The Adult Learning Inspectorate

The agency responsible for inspection in skills and employment, the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI), has published a report on the benefits for learners in having a good inspection regime. This report, entitled The Costs and Benefist of ALI Inspections and validated by ECOTEC Research and Consultancy Ltd., cites some 85% of Adult Learning Providers finding that the quality of their service had improved following their most recent inspection.

Furthermore, 90% go on to claim that this improvement was sustained, rather than dependent on an impending inspector's visit. With between 40 and a 100% of their improvement attributed to inspection, and 70% of providers stating that their service to learners is better due to inspections, the "knock at the door" of the clipboard wielding inspector seems to have a catalytic effect in many instances. This indication is corroborate by Learning and Skills Council (LSC) figures which indicate that learner success rates improve by roughly 4% when the training provider is inspected.

On The One Hand"¦

There are of course costs to the inspection regime "“ after all, the Beatles recognised that the best things in life may be free, but they would rather have money and give these things to our buzzing and feathered friends. The cost of an inspection varies from institution to institution, from an average of £17,897 for work based learning providers to some £133,575 for an FE college. The report suggests that the cost of a work based learning inspection is outweighed by the economic benefits to the learner within five years as things stand.

This situation is expected to improve still further, with this "break "“ even" point anticipated to occur even more swiftly. The benefits of the inspection therefore cannot simply be left at a better quality service, although this is indeed a great enhancement. There are also economic benefits for the learner, who "“ with a higher degree of training "“ is therefore able to enter a higher wage bracket, and are less likely to suffer from redundancy. The employer also reaps benefits from a good inspection regime, as they will get a better trained, more proficient and skilled worker.

Economic Benefits, Improved Success"¦So Why Change?

It is not simply a fiduciary argument that can be made in favour of the ALI inspections. Success rates amongst learners have increased dramatically during the four years of the ALI's inspection remit. In this time, the inadequacy rate amongst work based learning providers (normally offering either apprenticeships or NVQs) has halved from 56% to 28%. David Sherlock, the Chief Inspector of Adult Learning, called the evidence "overwhelmingly positive", and called this a "powerful argument for the long term benefits we offer to individual learners and the economy."

This remarkable success rate and the impact that this report shows the ALI to have on improving standards, however, may not be enough to save it from submersion beneath the aegis of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). A recent proposal from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) stated that the Government, in keeping with their commitment to cut bureaucracy when possible, plan to merge the ALI into Ofsted. This has raised the spectre of inspectors unfamiliar with the field of work based learning holding the key to further training contracts for training providers.

Ofsted focus on education from a different angle from that which needs dictate must dominate the work based learning sector for which the ALI is primarily responsible. Whilst the training providers under ALI auspices are industry focused (and thus may well be national providers who specialise within a given area of industry), Ofsted inspections are more used to taking into account local vagaries rather than industrial specifications. Indeed, many both within and outside Ofsted believe that they need to be more flexible in their inspection regime to account for demographic and geographical impacts as matters stand.

Inspection is a valid method for improving the service offered to learners, and therefore has a very direct contribution to make to education and the economy. Whether or not the proposed merger comes to pass, it must be recognised that inspection is crucial to all sides; it is simply a matter of the best means to implement it.

Jethro Marsh

How far can an inspection regime bend? Spill the beans in the FE Blog


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