Ofsted and the Apprentice Levy – Blessing or Curse?
Ofsted inspections. These two words have been known to strike abject terror into the heart of the most able of teachers. Under the new levy system, apprentice providers can expect scrutiny from both Ofsted and the ESFA. So, is this a blessing or a curse? What can providers do to prepare themselves for the inevitable inspection?
An Inspector calls
The introduction of the Apprentice Levy last year continues to bring about massive changes to the way learning and development is provided and assessed for some organisations. Employer providers, main providers and supporting providers are all subject to audit by the ESFA and inspection by Ofsted. Having teachers in my family, I’ve always been aware of the stress and strain associated with inspections. But I’ve never directly experienced it, or understood it.
The obvious question to ask is why? Why do inspections create such stress and anxiety? The answer could come down to three key elements: judgement, control and consequences.
In essence, none of us really likes to be judged. The prospect of being assessed on our performance at a snapshot in time, doesn’t seem fair or representative. We know this is true for learners, so it must be true for teachers and facilitators? Ofsted inspectors will want to see the evidence of learning, including observation of learning delivery. Even the most competent of us could feel slightly vulnerable under the gaze of inspection.
The second aspect is that of control. During an inspection, we can’t see into the inspector’s head and know whether it is going well or badly. Worse than that, although we have no control over their assessment, we are still responsible for it. To be responsible for something, but to have limited control or influence over it: can be a potential hell!
If all of this wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse! The consequences of inspection are real and significant. A good inspection can generate pride, enhancing professional credibility and creating reputations for excellence. Conversely, a bad inspection can mean the opposite: shame, perceived incompetence and potential commercial disaster.
Considering these three elements, its not surprising that those in Education respond with stress and anxiety when it comes to inspection time. There can be no doubt, that the same anxiety awaits new apprentice providers in the coming months. However, is there a potential upside to external audit and inspection?
The Potential Blessings
The main benefit of being answerable to Ofsted and ESFA is that of Quality Control. Assuring quality benefits in 3 important stakeholders: Learners, Client Organisations and Learning Providers
Learners – Without inspection, there would be no assurance of quality. No one would want to sign up to an apprenticeship, dedicating their time and effort over 1 to 3 years, only to discover that it was a substandard programme which left the learner with massive gaps in their skills and knowledge.
Client Organisations – The levy fund doesn’t directly “belong” to the client. But it is money they are entitled to spend on employee development. Organisations need to be confident that when they invest this money, they can be sure of an acceptable standard of quality in the programme.
Learning Providers – Whilst inspection and assessment has the potential to highlight what is poor, it also has potential to make the headlines about that which is outstanding. Feedback like this is like learning itself. Where learning providers can understand what is good and bad, then, just like their learners, they have the potential to develop and improve. A good Ofsted report can be used by the provider as a badge of quality and credibility. Good results have the potential to enhance reputations and attract more clients.
Ofsted for Apprentice Providers: 5 Ideas to Thrive rather than Survive
As the training world moves towards more formal assessment of quality of learning, here are 5 ideas to help get the best from the situation.
1 – Work each day as if its an inspection
Ok, this might sound a little trite, but there is some common sense here. If your team understand what inspectors will be looking for, and bring that into everyday delivery, then when the inevitable inspection comes, they will be more than ready.
2 – Keep the Evidence
Lots of providers are really good at what they do. The anecdotal evidence from learners and clients is glowing. But what Ofsted will want to see is….evidence and lots of it. Its no longer enough to know that you are good, you must be able to demonstrate the evidence to prove it. Providers will need to find ways to gather evidence across multiple areas, including: Leadership, quality of learning, personal development, welfare and learner outcomes.
3 – Check Progress
Providers need to demonstrate that learners are making progress. This means 3 things: a) knowing the starting point for learners when they begin, b) being able to track the progress they are making and c) making sure they realise the best outcome in terms of their personal progress.
4 – Technology
Technology shouldn’t be thought of as just part of the learning suite for apprentices. Technology can be essential in recording the all-important evidence. To be clear, technology should never be a substitute for assessment, but it can be used by providers to make recording, storing and reporting much easier and more effective.
5 – More Evidence
Yes, I am repeating myself, but it is well worth repeating. If you take away only one thing from this post, it should be that Apprentice Programmes mean Evidence. You can’t have too much of it, and you should never miss an opportunity to gather it.
Whether you are an employer, employer provider or supporting provider, talk to us about our Leadership Apprentice Programmes and our approach to learning through the levy.