Analysis of Ofsted’s FE reports reveals new insight into how sector leadership regards quality assurance, says Carole Loader, a director at Mesma:

It’s apparent from examining reports covering more than 60 providers who were inspected by Ofsted between February to April 2018, that a good number of employer providers, FE colleges, independent learning providers (ITPs), local authorities, not-for-profit organisations and specialist further education colleges still do not have adequate quality assurance arrangements in place. 

Indeed, drilling down, it’s clear from the reports that there are several common threads, which span each individual grade band. For instance, those organisations that achieved a grade one for overall effectiveness, collectively possessed leaders and managers who generated a culture of high standards and ambition with a focus on innovative working practices and excellent learner involvement - all a part of a wider cultural environment.  

Governors, who listened to learners’ views and acted on appropriate suggestions, were also highly involved in the top performing organisations. Staff expertise ensured learners succeeded through highly individualised teaching and learning: students received fully personalised programmes while care, physical and emotional learning needs were integrated as part of a wider holistic day-to-day academic experience. 

Apprentices benefitted from theory that linked well to work practices, and staff equipped learners for work in challenging environments. Overall, it appeared that analysis of Ofsted reports showed that staff prepared students very effectively for adulthood, which in turn, contributed to an enhanced quality of life.

Organisations that achieved a grade two had staff that created a warm and welcoming environment, where good teaching and learning was based on effective improvement strategies. Governors in some cases provided a good level of scrutiny and held leadership to account around course quality and achievement. 

However, bodies achieving this grade also demonstrated commonalities when it came to areas for improvement. Not all learners achieved the progress they were capable of while too few achieved English and maths. There were a range of reasons for this identified in the reports: ‘maths and English strategy not implemented’‘Leaders and managers do not monitor learners’ maths and English sufficiently well’, and ‘student attendance on maths and English GCSE is too low’ all stood out in analysis of the reports.

The promotion of Prevent Duty seemed to remain an issue too. ‘Learners do not have sufficient understanding of the risks of radicalisation and extremism’ was cited while ‘…staff confidence to promote Prevent Duty effectively’ saw learners’ understanding and recognition of the risks associated with radicalisation and extremism require clarity, particularly among those with learning difficulties.

While grade three organisations tended to nurture safe and caring environments and had learners and apprentices capable of developing self-confidence, leaders and managers often had not taken sufficient steps to improve since the last Ofsted inspection. They also lacked sufficient oversight across teaching environments and information, advice and guidance activity does not always raise the learners’ ambition.

Analysis of organisations with grade four for overall effectiveness showed up several areas where improvement was paramount. These ranged from inadequate safeguarding and poor teaching standards, through to leadership failures around improvements or sufficiently monitor and evaluate learning provision to governance that was woefully inadequate. This all added up to an environment where too many learners were not making sufficient progress.

The evidence indicates that lower grade providers tended to have less rigorous quality assurance measures in place.  It also shows that those organisations identified by Ofsted as needing to improve could also be employing senior management that might be failing to implement planned actions quickly enough.

It’s clear to those with executive responsibility across the FE learning experience, that the value of implementing robust self-assessment and improvement planning models, which are accurate, well structured, evidence rich and, ultimately, challenge staff to continuously improve, can only be positive. 

Carole Loader, Director, Mesma

Online improvement planning specialists MESMA was set-up in response to changes implemented by education watchdog Ofsted, which led to schools, colleges and independent providers receiving reduced notice of inspection. The company has produced a free QuickBook, which collates Ofsted key findings in an easy to read format and summary presentation of its analysis. 

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