Preparing for an upcoming Ofsted inspection? Trying to figure out your path to improvement following a visit from Ofsted? Or simply looking to lay some solid foundations for the future?

Whatever your reasons for taking action, it’s never too early to be thinking about ways to improve your Ofsted grade.

If your approach to Ofsted requires improvement and you’re planning on implementing change, it’s important to consider the motivations driving your team. The pressure to obtain or retain a strong grade can be a source of significant stress. So start by thinking about the ways in which you can encourage this preparation in a positive, supportive manner.

A respectable Ofsted grade brings many benefits. Staff and learners may feel motivated and engaged if they see that Ofsted has recognised their hard work and achievements. Equally, Ofsted’s assessment can impact the wider reputation of the provider, affecting everything from better recruiting opportunities through to improved funding outcomes.

Whether you’re looking to improve on a disappointing assessment or trying to pre-emptively prepare for your next Ofsted inspection, this article will help shine a light onto some of the areas that are often overlooked or underestimated when it comes to improving an Ofsted grade. Paying particular attention to the provision of SEND learner support as an important contributing factor.


What key areas do Ofsted assess?

In order to improve your Ofsted grade, you need a clear understanding of exactly what inspectors will be looking for and the way in which they’ll assess their findings. The Education Inspection Framework (EIF) sets out how Ofsted will evaluate all learning providers, and structures this around four key pillars: quality of education, behaviours and attitudes, personal development and leadership and management.

SEND learner support is an increasingly important area of focus for Ofsted and will form a significant portion of the assessment that they make. The types of provision evaluated are as follows:


Quality of education

“Inspectors will take a rounded view of the quality of education that a provider delivers to its learners.” (EIF, Further education and skills handbook)

Ofsted assessment of quality of education is based upon the 3 “I”s – intent, implementation and impact. Intent refers to curriculum intent – is it clear what the chosen curriculum is preparing learners for? The EIF specifically demands that:

“The curriculum ensures that all learners benefit from high academic, technical and vocational ambitions. This means that the curriculum should be ambitious for disadvantaged learners or those with SEND, including those who have high needs, and should meet those needs.”

Implementation focuses more closely on how the curriculum is practically delivered – are learners being given access to expert knowledge, effective teaching methods and the regular assessment they need in order to progress? These regular checkpoints are an essential element of successful SEND provision and can support better curriculum personalisation.

Finally, impact will be assessed based on learner outcomes – has learning been delivered in a way that builds to a discernible end point? Are learners ready to progress and build upon their success? Again, learners with SEND requirements are specifically highlighted within the EIF:

“Disadvantaged learners and learners with SEND acquire the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life.”


Behaviour and attitudes

Ofsted’s assessment of behaviour and attitudes aims to explore “how leaders and staff create a safe, disciplined and positive environment within the provider.” And the impact this environment has on the behaviour and attitudes of learners will also be evaluated.

One thing we would say here is that behaviours that are often punished in a learning environment can be caused by many things. Unidentified learning difficulties and differences can be an underlying factor in these behaviours. And punishing learners when they might already be struggling could make things worse.

It is always good to ask what is behind common disruptive behaviours, such as too much talking, fidgeting, giggling or others. Better yet if you have robust processes to identify learners’ needs as early as possible and can support ways of managing these behaviours.

This section of the framework also looks at the provision of a calm and orderly environment, with clear expectations for behaviour and strong focus on attendance and punctuality. It also specifically calls out the need for individuals with learning needs to receive appropriate support to achieve improved behaviour and attendance.

Having a set notion of “correct” behaviour can create more barriers for some learners and lead to more misunderstanding and stigma around the differences they experience. Taking an inclusive approach and clearing up any misunderstandings in a clear and respectful way is likely to get better results than punishment or repeated expectations without offering different solutions.

The level of support you need to provide will always differ depending on the individual.


Personal development

When assessing provision for personal development, Ofsted are looking for learners being supported “to develop their knowledge and skills beyond the purely academic, technical or vocational.”

When looking at the areas that contribute to grading here, equality of provision is a prominent factor. Providers should be “promoting equality of opportunity so that all learners can thrive together, understanding that difference is a positive, not a negative, and that individual characteristics make people unique[.]”

And we can support all learners with protected characteristics by “promoting an inclusive environment that meets the needs of all learners, irrespective of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation, relationship status or pregnancy.”


Leadership and management

Finally, leadership and management are assessed. The needs of SEND learners are reflected prominently within these criteria and it outlines the importance of provision being prioritised with a “top down” approach at all times.

The EIF calls for “leaders, managers and those responsible for governance [to] ensure that the education and training delivered by the provider have a positive impact on all learners, including those with SEND and those who have high needs.”



Developing an Ofsted requirement action plan

Fortune favours the well prepared!

You will sleep better at night knowing that you’ve developed a comprehensive Ofsted requirement action plan. This will bring benefits to everyone involved – leadership, staff and learners.

By proactively preparing for assessment with a clear view of the criteria that Ofsted are assessing against, you can ensure that you’re well prepared to meet all enquiries and requests for evidence with confidence.

In this section, we provide a few tips to prepare and meet the demands of an inspection, whenever it comes.


1.   Ofsted problems: fix them now and don’t delay

The first step towards an improved Ofsted grade is to face known issues head on.

You might be acting to turn an “Ofsted requires improvement” situation around or simply looking to avoid an urgent scramble to put measures in place ahead of an inspection. But if you are aware of problems within your provision framework, all advice recommends taking steps towards improvement, however small.

It’s important to remember that Ofsted inspectors are not looking for perfection – nor do they expect it.

They’re looking for high standards that show evidence of continued progress. Even in the case of being awarded the coveted “Outstanding” grade, the EIF specifically states “one of the key judgements may be good, as long as there is convincing evidence that the provider is improving this area rapidly and securely towards it being outstanding.”

The more evidence that you can provide when it comes to showing tangible steps in place to resolve identified issues, the higher your chances of being able to show acknowledgement and action to Ofsted’s inspectors.


2.   Collaborate with other education providers

When making improvements in anticipation of an Ofsted inspection, it’s important to remember the “why” of your actions.

Ultimately, improving your grade is a reflection of the service you’re providing to your learners.

Change and improvement is actioned for their benefit and will always supersede the desire to make changes simply to “tick boxes” and attain a higher grading.

Because of this focus on doing right by learners, other providers can be very generous in their willingness to share winning strategies and talk through the changes (and challenges) that they’ve experienced.

At times, there can be a tendency for providers to become slightly insular when looking to make improvements, but there’s no reason not to reach out to other providers for support and advice. At our Ask the Inspector event, Marina Gaze, former deputy director of FE and Skills at Ofsted, had this to say on the topic:

“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.”

As Marina points out, providers should all rally together behind supporting learner outcomes, sharing best practices and advice.


3.   Create an “Outstanding” Culture

When creating an Ofsted requirement action plan, we’d also suggest an approach that tackles long term cultural change, as well as actions that require immediate attention.

Drawing up an action plan should be about meeting Ofsted’s requirements every day as a default, not just raising standards when the inspectors are looking.

To this end, governors and leaders need to foster management that embodies the Outstanding criteria, and ensure their entire organisation puts learners front and centre of their practices.

Again, Marina Gaze reflects that “The biggest problems that I see are where leaders, in particular, have stepped away from quality and they don’t know what’s happening.” She argues that leadership shouldn’t need a consultant to go in and tell them what their problems are – but in practice, they often do. Leaders with a clear understanding and vision for their organisation will help drive more meaningful cultural change.


4.   Embed equality, diversity and inclusion within your processes

Putting learners front and centre of your Ofsted requirement action plan means creating a provision that welcomes and supports all learners.

Ofsted’s EIF is very clear about the importance it places on the experience and outcomes of SEND and disadvantaged learners. The attention paid to equality and diversity is evident across almost every section of the framework, and the impact of failing to pay attention to this clear guidance can be hugely damaging for learners and organisations.

We want to avoid this at all costs.

To ensure top level compliance here, explore the advice given in the free LDD Quality Assurance Framework Module. This framework provides a methodical pathway through the five key stages of the learner journey (with clear correlations to Ofsted’s “Intent, Implementation and Impact”). And help providers ensure that they’re providing the best and most inclusive support for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities throughout their learning journey.


5.   Staff training and support

Finally, when compiling your Ofsted requirement action plan, don’t forget to factor in the way you intend to provide your staff with ongoing training and support. This planning should clearly demonstrate the way in which staff training will support your learner outcomes.

Kelly Townend, Quality Manager at West Yorkshire Learning Provider Network, suggests that the provision of adequate continuous professional development is an essential factor in ensuring organisations provide an inclusive experience for learners:

“Go out and test that CPD and its impact. Is it drilling down and having an impact on the ground with the learners? Because if it’s not, there is a CPD issue.”

Improved staff training and support will also have a positive impact on a provider’s recruitment marketing and staff retention. Your organisation should be Outstanding for staff as well as learners.

Your organisation is more likely to thrive if you can provide an environment that enables everyone to learn and work under the best conditions.

Treating everyone, learners and staff, with the same level of respect and supporting them on their lifelong learning journey helps providers to stand out. And it follows that providers with great staff retention will likely have great learner retention too because everyone wants to be there.

Marina Gaze sits on the board of Multiverse who were recently graded Outstanding, noting that “their staff retention is phenomenal and it’s what we’re all saying, if you care for your staff, the chances are you’re probably really going to care for your learners and apprentices too. And actually, the apprentice retention is absolutely fabulous as well.”


Ofsted requires improvement? Take action today.

When looking to improve your Ofsted grade, the importance of recognising SEND provision should not be underestimated. It’s an increasingly important part of your Ofsted assessment and an area where most providers could benefit from improvement.

In terms of planning, delivery and assessment, the ongoing assessment and support provided to your SEND learners is a crucial component of Ofsted success.

Cognassist’s personalised learner journey platform and digital cognitive assessments are able to provide support at different stages of this process. Helping to streamline the management of LDD learning journeys and improving outcomes through better understanding and responsive accommodation of unique learning needs. If you’re ready to take proactive measures to help improve your Ofsted grade, we’d love to hear from you.


Learn how your Quality Assurance processes can support the drive for quality for all learners…

Watch our free webinar: The Quality Series: Ensuring Equality


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