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Research into further education subcontracting launched

Ofsted is launching a new research project to look at the subcontracting landscape within further education #FE

Subcontracting remains a popular option for FE providers. Last academic year, subcontracting accounted for around £650 million in government funding on adult learning and apprenticeship provision and also fully or partially funded courses for over 25,000 students aged 16 to 19 at hundreds of subcontractors.

Most FE providers were judged as good or outstanding at their last inspection. Since February 2018, we have increased our focus on the management and quality of subcontracted provision during inspections, and this increased focus continues in our new education inspection framework (EIF).

A subcontractor’s offering cannot be disentangled from the contract agreed with the main provider. Therefore, we place responsibility for learners’ experiences on the main provider and do not directly inspect standalone subcontractors. This research will explore the relationship between the main provider’s contracting arrangements and the quality of provision offered by subcontractors.

The aims of our new research are to learn more about the subcontracting landscape and the impact that a contract between a main provider and subcontractor can have on the learning experience. The research will also inform how we inspect main providers that choose to use subcontracted provision.

This autumn, we will carry out pre-arranged visits to a variety of subcontractors that have contracts with FE providers we’ve recently inspected. At the same time, we will examine our previous inspection reports for references to subcontracting, and hold focus groups with inspectors about the process of evaluating subcontracted learning.

Visits are not inspections and will not result in a written report for the subcontractor.

Ofsted Deputy Director, Further Education and Skills, Paul Joyce, said:

We made a commitment to increase our focus on subcontracting, which remains a major part of the FE landscape. I hope this research will give us more insight into the experience learners get at a provider, which in turn will help us refine this part of our inspection work.

We will work with subcontractors who take part in the research to make sure we do not place an additional burden on staff. All visits will be carried out purely for research purposes and will not double up as inspections. This research is part of our commitment to be a force for improvement in the sectors we inspect, and to make sure that everything we do is supported by evidence.

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