Got inspection questions? Ask the Inspector: Q&A
Some might say that moving house is one of the most stressful life events, but ask anyone who works with learners in the FE and Skills sector and Ofsted inspections would be right up there as well.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, we promise.
We hosted an online Q&A with Marina Gaze, former deputy director of FE and Skills at Ofsted, to ask her your questions, give you some answers and hopefully allay some fears.
Ofsted plays a key role in ensuring education providers are giving learners’ a quality experience, and many providers are committed to this aim every day. Inspections are about showcasing the wonderful work you do and, as Marina says, inspectors are people too – they want to see you do well, just as much as you want to do well!
Let’s kick off by introducing you to Marina Gaze. In her own words, she has an incredible list of credentials…
“I have over 23 years of inspection experience and have worked for the Training Standards Council, the Adult Learning Inspectorate and of course, more recently, Ofsted. I’m now a consultant, and I spent most of my time supporting providers and colleges to rapidly improve the quality of their provision and focus on things that are going to have the most impact on their learners.”
Attendees at the live event couldn’t speak highly enough of Marina and her valuable perspective. Hopefully, she’ll have some great advice for you too.
We picked out the top ten questions from the day. You can scroll through all the questions or jump to a specific section by clicking the links below:
#1 What are your top tips for FE providers?
I think my main one is: if you’ve got an issue, fix it now.
I always say this to people, if you thought Ofsted were going to turn up on Monday, what wouldn’t you want them to see? Don’t hide it. Go and sort it out now, not for Ofsted but for your learners, your apprentices. Making sure that they get the best possible deal that they can.
Don’t pretend something is not happening or it’s too difficult to sort, go and get it sorted now – that’s my top tip.
#2 What are the most common mistakes you see in FE providers?
It is interesting because you do see the same sorts of themes when things are going wrong. I spent a lot of my life looking at that, as well as looking at things that are going right.
The most common problems and most common mistakes I see are what I would call insularity, a lack of knowing what other providers are doing.
If you’re not already in one, join your local learning provider network. I do some work with the Greater Manchester learning provider network, for example, and it’s a fantastic support system. I know these things exist across the country so join one.
My view is that our colleagues in the sector are very generous. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, we all want our sector to be fantastic and learners to get a great deal. People are generous and they’re willing to share. With that, of course, is doing what other people have always done and not changing.
There have been some massive changes. With apprenticeships, that change from frameworks to standards. With frameworks, we could just go out and assess competence, but with standards, you really can’t do that. You have to be giving teaching and learning to your apprentices and helping them develop. It’s a different way of interacting with your apprentices. There also needs to be much more employer engagement with apprentices.
And another big one, with things not changing, is carrying on doing things as if we were still using the common inspection framework and haven’t moved to the education inspection framework. There’s lots of guidance out there about the education inspection framework.
You can download and read the document, but there are lots of videos that Ofsted have posted and lots of events about how to apply that framework and what it means in practice. To make sure you’re moving with the times and changing your practice.
The other really big mistake that I always see is that providers don’t know their learners and their apprentices well enough. And if you don’t know your learners and your apprentices, you can’t be planning learning and supporting learning for them.
To me, the most fundamental thing that everybody needs to get right is the initial assessment and the robust and accurate identification of starting points.
With initial assessment, it’s also a real opportunity to identify learning needs so you can quickly put support in place, and not leave it until that person becomes disengaged. That’s what I mean, get to know your learners. Talk to them, look at a range of initial assessment evidence, get feedback from them about what’s worked for them in the past and what they know doesn’t work well. Really get that initial assessment right.
Another one is to think about why you’re teaching what you’re teaching, in the order you’re teaching it. Because I very often see that people keep on delivering information in a certain way because they’ve always done it, not because they’ve sat down and thought about it.
Sometimes it’s just about reflecting on: are we doing the right thing for our learners and should we be changing what we’ve always done?
Those are the biggest mistakes: not changing and not listening to your learners.
#3 How much of a role will remote learning and support play in inspections post-Covid? Will there be more attention on remote delivery going forward?
I think that depends on the provider because some of you might be stopping doing remote delivery altogether and some of you might think, well actually this has been a great model for our learners and we’re going to carry on doing it.
I think what’s important is that you think about your intent.
What is the purpose of your provision? Who are your intended learners? What’s best for those learners? Is it online provision or is it best in a classroom, face-to-face? How do you know? Have you worked with your learners to find out? That’s the starting point.
I do know several apprenticeship providers that are just going to stay with the remote model because it’s given them the ability to develop some really strong practice. Ironically, spending more time with their apprentices, albeit online, because staff are spending much less time sitting in a car, driving around the country to see one apprentice. When you could be giving that apprentice much more teaching and learning, much more feedback on their assessment, much more coaching if you’re doing it all online.
If you are online, it’s how you’ve changed your materials for that. What you’ve done with your quality systems. I think we would all agree, being online isn’t necessarily the same as being engaged and, as we know, being engaged whether it’s online or in a classroom isn’t the same as learning.
If people are moving into online learning, what is the support that neurodiverse learners or apprentices might need with that online learning? Some of them might love it, some of them might hate it. What are you doing about it? What’s right for them? And how have you developed staff and given them CPD to be able to support the move to online learning? Have you trained staff to be able to work with this? There’s a lot to think about but, at the end of the day, the principles of good learning are always the same, whether it’s face-to-face or online.
#4 Is it possible that providers’ grades may be affected during inspection if they are not providing or demonstrating effective support of learning needs?
I think that one of the fantastic things about the education inspection framework is it has a high priority and focus on SEND (special educational needs and disability) and disadvantaged learners – apprentices, adult learners everybody.
If you do look at the education inspection framework and the grading criteria, you’ll see that SEND and disadvantaged learners are mentioned in absolutely every section of the handbook and the framework.
I think that Ofsted putting SEND and disadvantaged learners centre stage, getting people talking about it, really helps to get that conversation going and remove some of the stigma.
The answer is yes because Ofsted has got a strong focus on it throughout the handbook.
Just off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure that the outstanding grade description of the quality of education does say something like, ‘learners consistently achieve highly, particularly the most disadvantaged learners with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes.’
I think it’s central to the EIF throughout that learners’ with SEND are really important and that they have to have access to a high-quality curriculum and have to be supported to access that curriculum too.
So that’s a long way of saying yes [laughs].
#5 Marina, what does outstanding look like to you?
Well, it’s a thing that I get up and go to work hoping to see most days.
And the same as with the problems, it always looks the same. Although people go about in so many different ways.
It’s about knowing your learners. Having high expectations for them. Planning learning and supporting them accordingly. Removing any barriers. And helping them to become independent learners. Enthusing them for your subject or your trade or your area, whatever it is. Fuelling their passions and enabling them to develop careers in those areas.
And it’s not just about supporting learners to do that because, at the end of the day, it’s the staff that do it. So it’s about how providers treat their staff too.
Do they give staff time to do their work properly? Do people have manageable caseloads? Do they have time to prepare learning, mark work and give feedback? Are they given good CPD so that they can do their jobs effectively as possible? Are those providers learning from a wide range of sources? Do they want feedback? And that’s often why people invite me in because they’re keen to learn and to see what I think about their provision.
It’s about all of those things. It’s about really caring about your staff. It’s about really caring about your learners and it’s about really being open to feedback from other people and wanting to learn from other people as well.
#6 In your experience, if a provider requires improvement in any of the four key judgements, what could they do to quickly improve? Do you have any examples of this happening?
This is an interesting one because I know that this question talks about the four key judgements, but just carrying on with this conversation around SEND and neurodiverse learners. If you look at the education inspection framework and the FE and skills Handbook, they are mentioned in the four key judgements but they are mentioned in every type of provision as well.
If you do require improvement in any of the four key judgements, what you have to do to improve quickly is to focus on the things that are going to have the most impact on learners.
When this goes wrong, people choose actions that are around the edges, quick and easy to fix. Rather than looking at what is the problem and what is the best way to go about this.
That’s the key thing: What’s the real problem?
Then it’s about setting smart actions. These have to bring about improvements quickly. One of the problems that I often see when people send me their action plans, is that the timescales are far too long.
I don’t want to put down a blanket rule for this, but really between 4 to 6 weeks, you should be going back and measuring the impact of that action again. Is it bringing about improvement? If not, is the action wrong, does it need tweaking or do you need to be doing something completely different?
Whichever focus we have, the inspectorate has always been on the quality of the learners’ experiences. So it’s about putting the learner centre stage, and finding out what you could do best to help them.
Things where people can improve quickly, I think are things like initial assessment and that reviewing of progress.
Do you know your learners? Have you initially assessed them against the things that they need to know? And then how can you show that you planned learning to meet that and how can you show that you’re reviewing learning, monitoring learning and planning further learning based on that.
Those are the quick things to do. Not easy I know, but the things that need doing.
#7 Do you have any advice for people struggling with anxiety around their upcoming Ofsted inspection?
The first thing I’d say is please try not to be anxious. Inspectors are human beings, I’ve yet to meet one with horns and a forked tail. They’re people and they’re people from our sector. They will have been in the same position as you, they will have been inspected once too. So they have empathy, they know what you’re going through. When you meet them face-to-face, I can assure you they will try to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you.
The second thing I’d say is to talk to other people who have been inspected. Back to that thing of networking, talking to others, making those bridges with other providers. What was it like for them? If they could do things again, would they do anything differently? Was there anything that took them by surprise? Could they have done anything to prepare better? Talk to other people about their experiences and it might allay your fears as well.
I’d think about things like, ‘what am I really anxious about?’ I’d try to break it down and make myself a plan about how I was going to go about addressing the things I was frightened of. That can be difficult as well, really being honest with yourself.
I don’t know what you’re anxious about. It might be letting your colleagues down, it might be about letting your learners down, or is it that you think you’re doing some part of your job badly. Find out what it is and put some actions into place and get some support from your colleagues to help you address those actions. You are a team as a provider, not an individual, so work with other people and get that plan in place.
And think about where your evidence is to show you’re doing a good job with your learners and your apprentices. If you think there are gaps there, ask what you might do differently and take action. You might find you enjoy it when you get inspected, some people do honestly!
#8 Will provider grades be affected if transitioning to a blended learning model, consisting of digital and face-to-face, but scheme of work is in development?
I very much doubt it, quite honestly.
I think as long as you can show what your intent is and how you are planning what you’re going to do. I think everybody understands that we all need to keep developing. As we said before, when provision’s often bad it’s because people often stood still and not moved things forward.
My view is no, as long as your apprentices aren’t suffering and they’re still getting a good experience because that’s always the important thing. My view is it should be possible to transition and make sure that the experience is still good.
#9 What is Ofsted’s overall view on Cognassist? How do they expect us to use this tool for inspections and what specific reports or information are they looking at in their inspections?
It’s not about what you have, it’s about how you use it. The impact on learners. Although Ofsted wouldn’t have a specific view on Cognassist, they would be looking at the things you use Cognassist for. So there’s no point in having invested in Cognassist if you don’t then use it properly.
So how are you using those results from the initial assessment? How are you checking that your learners and your apprentices are accessing the resources? How are you checking that accessing those resources is making an impact on the learners’ experience and their independent learning? That’s what’s really important. How you use it, what you’re doing with it, how you monitor it and how it benefits your learners. That’s what you need to be thinking about.
#10 Would you say a baseline assessment is a must?
I spent a lot of time recently talking to different people in different sectors about baseline assessments. Your idea of what a baseline assessment is might be different to mine, but a baseline assessment in the subject that that learner is going to be studying is really useful.
I don’t know if you’re a college. I don’t know if you’re an apprenticeship provider. But back to this thing that everybody’s had massive gaps in learning, you need to know what those gaps are so that you know how to plan your learning and plug the gaps.
I’d go for a baseline assessment in literacy and numeracy as well because if you don’t have certain levels of literacy and numeracy, it can be very hard to access the curriculum.
It might surprise you that I’m also going to say some sort of baseline assessment around neurodiversity too. So that you can help learners to help themselves.
Back to that, do we know our learners? And I don’t see how you can if you don’t have some sort of baseline assessment.
It also helps you to measure progress as well. If you don’t know what people’s starting points were, how can you honestly say you’re measuring progress? And somebody asked earlier about the data, Ofsted won’t use the data from the last two years because we know it’ll be so up and down, so it’s even more important that you can show the progress of your current learners and apprentices accurately by having that baseline assessment.
Watch the full event on demand
There’s more where that came from…
Marina answered many more questions around adult education, functional skills, timely achievement, working with employers and more on Ofsted trends and priorities.
We highly recommend giving it a listen.
Here’s some of the feedback from the day:
“My whole understanding of Ofsted has changed!”
“Everything single thing that was said felt like gold dust.”
“Thank you! Really helpful 🙂 ”
“This has been very beneficial.”
Get involved and watch the full event on demand.
Science Communications Manager
Hear Marina’s perspective on:
- Inspections post-covid
- Ofsted’s priorities and hot topics
- Advice for adult learning providers
- Explaining functional skills
- Initial assessment and starting points
- Removing barriers to on- and off-the-job training
- and more…