Deborah Millar, Group Director of Digital Learning Technologies, Grimsby Institute Group

Among teachers, Ofsted are regularly a target for criticism. But it feels like things have turned a corner, as chief inspector Amanda Spielman admitted that Ofsted inspection had added pressure for schools to deliver test scores “above all else”.

While it’s not going to be a straightforward job to wean colleges and schools off an entrenched focus on league tables, it’s great that the first steps are being taken towards a more rounded education system – which I think is common sense.

In the FE sector, we know better than most the negative impact a results-driven culture in education can have not just on teachers, but student confidence and wellbeing too.

The debate has already begun

Recently, I came together with colleagues from across the sector at the ‘Education Technology in Further Education’ roundtable, organised by Canvas to discuss barriers to the use of EdTech in FE. The session covered a wide range of topics, with the role of Ofsted and assessment a frequent topic of debate.

While we were coming at the issue from the perspective of tech, we gravitated towards the perennial key issues with Ofsted – are they too focused on results, and is it fair to base observations essentially on one fixed point in time?

However, by proposing that inspections swap the section based on pupil outcomes with a new measure of the quality of education, they are set to do more to validate all the work that takes place in the background and run-up to inspection.

For me in my role at Grimsby Institute, that background work encompasses things like time spent making blended learning work in my classes, supported by education technology.

If the teacher has time to go around and talk to students during an Ofsted observation, that’s a positive, but the inspector has to infer how they’re got to this stage, and has historically been more focused on classroom outcomes rather than preparation. This is set to change though, and it’s about time.

Defining ‘quality education’

There are, however, still details to be worked out. Ofsted will need to consider their definition of quality education, and understand what we set out to achieve in colleges. In FE, we arguably have a straightforward primary goal – prepare students for industry and the working world.

As it stands now, we have the opportunity to fill a gap that exists in Ofsted guidance and make more of the impact that tech can have in teaching.

Digital skills are essential in the workplace, but recent research among people enrolled in FE courses finds that currently only 37% feel prepared to go into a workplace using digital technologies.

There are some great examples of FE institutions using technology to this end, but there is still work to be done.

Let’s get digital

The struggle to meet these needs and impart digital skills more consistently is a stubborn issue with many root causes. Funding is often top of the list, but of course the staff themselves have to be savvy too.

If teachers haven’t learned about using technology in the classroom as part of their training, most will have little time to pick these skills up on the job.

Again, Ofsted are talking a good game now on fighting ‘excessive workload’ caused by teachers becoming more like data managers, but it remains to be seen whether teachers will really get much needed time back – not just for planning, curriculum design and the like, but for CPD in digital skills.

While there is little appetite for Ofsted outright mandating the way that technology has to be used in classrooms, there needs to be an acknowledgement that teaching is preparing students for the working world – and that includes using tech and digital skills.

It’s a balancing act in terms of where the control should lie, but education technology has a role to play in any effort to refocus on delivering better curriculums and more rounded learning.

The tide is turning and Ofsted now has a golden chance to help finally push things forward.

Deb Millar, Group Director of Digital Learning Technologies, Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education

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