The Policy Consortium on… Ofsted, accountability and FE improvement

The Policy Consortium on… Ofsted, accountability and FE improvement

Since mid-2013, Policy Consortium members Mike Cooper, Colin Forrest and Carolyn Medlin have investigated patterns in data and processes related to inspections, analysing them and offering observations and comments.

One significant issue often hitting the headlines is accountability – most prominently through Ofsted inspection. Few occasions produce greater uncertainty and anxiety amongst staff and their leaders than inspections. And few things seem to generate such activity around beforehand and afterwards as inspections, not to mention the frequent controversies.

What follows are all of the Policy Consortium’s published articles on the topic to date, in sequence from earliest to most recent. Each separate piece is briefly contextualised and hot-linked.

Ofsted and improvement — living up to expectations? was published in the FE Week Ofsted supplement on 6 September 2013. It was prompted in part by an preceding article from the inspectorate’s then-Director of FE and Skills, Matthew Coffey (entitled ‘Living up to Ofsted’s expectations’). Our article posed questions about how the claim that inspection supports improvement in the sector actually works (and to what degree). It was largely based on an analysis of grades reported across FE inspections of all types throughout the academic year 2012–13.

One matter discussed in this piece was the strong suspicion that inspection-grades data is sometimes manipulated for maximum publicity, and perhaps even for political purposes as well. The Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2012 on inspections during the preceding academic year had raised considerable hackles in and around the sector. So, in anticipation of the 2012–13 Annual Report publication at the end of 2013, the Policy Consortium team produced an update article — Setting the scene for the Ofsted Annual Report and FE improvement — for FE News on 11 December 2013This was based on further analysis of the impact of Ofsted’s work during that previous academic year, plus a consideration of what had emerged since September 2013.

This second article was then revised to encompass points from the new Annual Report, and subsequently published as a fuller piece, Ofsted still found to be much in need of improvement, in Edition 185 of Education Journal, on 17 December 2013.

Next, an FE Week interview with the former Chief Executive of Newcastle College Group, Dame Jackie Fisher, reported her experience of inspection in summer 2012 (especially the complaint and appeals processes). The article also revealed the results of a Freedom of Information request about the volume, nature and outcomes of appeals and complaints to Ofsted. All of this prompted a further Policy Consortium article – Appeals and complaints to Ofsted: consultancy for free? — originally published in FE Week on 25 January 2014.

Then, in December 2014, and once again around the publication of the Chief Inspector’s Annual Report on FE and Skills for the preceding academic year, we published Will it turn out to be ‘Better Inspection for All’, in the end? . This initially arose in response to the Ofsted consultation ‘Better Inspection for All’ in Autumn 2014, which reported its outcomes and the next steps in early February 2015. The Consortium article, by Mike Cooper and Colin Forrest, looked at three main issues around inspection and their potential impact on improving provision in FE and Skills sector providers.

All these pieces raise key issues for the inspectorate, and beyond.

Just what is the role of inspection, as an accountability tool, in raising standards across all post-16 learning and skills provision? What effects does it actually have – intended, claimed, unintended or unacknowledged? How might it be improved to benefit all of FE’s stakeholders – individual learners, providers, government and its departments, and even up to the level of wider society and ‘UK plc’? What now are the implications for ‘co-ownership of improvement’ for providers, their staff, and indeed inspectors emerging from the return of Ofsted to a limited role in that important field?

Further articles resulting from new work by the Policy Consortium team on this subject will be added to this compendium piece as they emerge; these additions will be notified through our website.