Ofsted’s new FE and skills handbook explained

I’ve already analysed the draft new Education Inspection Framework and the School’s Inspection Handbook. Now, last but certainly not least, is the turn of the Further Education and Skills Handbook…

As with schools inspection, Ofsted will use the evidence they gather during an inspection visit (which will last for between 2 and 5 days depending on the size and nature of the institution) in order to grade providers under four main headings and then give an ‘overall effectiveness’ grade.

The four judgment areas are as follows:

1. Quality of education

2. Behaviour and attitudes

3. Personal development

4. Leadership and management

Types of provision 

However, unlike schools, in addition to the four judgment areas above, FE and skills providers will also receive separate graded judgments for different types of provision.  

Currently, colleges are judged on up to six types of provision including 16-19 Study Programmes, Adult Learning Programmes, Apprenticeships, Provision for Learners with High Needs, Traineeships and Full Time Provision for 14-16 year olds.  

Under draft new proposals, Ofsted intends to inspect three types of provision:

Education programmes for young people: This is defined as provision funded through the ESFA 16 to 18 classroom-based funding stream for study programmes and traineeships for those aged 16 to 18, and for those aged 16 to 24 with high needs, and funded through high needs provision funding, and for ESFA-funded full- time provision for 14- to 16-year-olds enrolled in colleges.

Adult learning programmes: This is provision funded through the adult education budget and/or advanced learning loans, including employability training for learners aged 19 and over referred for training by Jobcentre Plus. This includes community learning provision and traineeships for those aged 19 and over. This may include adult education provision funded by GLA and/or MCAs.

Apprenticeships: These are apprenticeships at levels 2 to 5 funded by the ESFA and/or through the apprenticeship levy.

Inspectors will grade and report on each type of provision where there are significant numbers of learners, or a high level of funding, and on which learners who are deemed to be particularly vulnerable are enrolled.

The quality of provision for learners with high needs and with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) – which is a much broader group than those attracting high-needs funding – will be considered during the inspection of any type of provision rather than be inspected and graded separately. This reflects Ofsted’s desire to tackle issues of social justice and ensure providers offer an ambitious curriculum for all learners including those with SEND and High Needs.   

If the number of learners in a particular type of provision is low, then Ofsted say that type of provision will normally be inspected and reported on, but may not be graded.

Sector subject areas, as now, will not be graded or reported on separately. 

Gathering evidence 

Inspectors’ evidence-gathering will include observations of teaching, as well as observations of support arrangements, discussions with learners, the scrutiny of learners’ work, and the scrutiny of arrangements made for them to gain experience of work. Inspectors may undertake some inspection activities jointly with members of the provider’s staff, such as visits to learning sessions.

Inspectors may plan visits to learners at work in order to observe members of the provider’s staff and subcontracted staff (where applicable) carrying out teaching or assessment activities with learners.

The nominee’s role 

Unlike schools, colleges usually appoint a nominee to manage the inspection for the provider and to act as conduit for information flowing to and from the inspection team.  In schools, this role is usually performed by the headteacher but colleges are larger, more complex organisations and the CEO/Principal is not always the best person for this job.

The nominee’s responsibilities include:

  • providing information for the lead inspector to support inspection planning 
  • briefing the provider’s staff about arrangements 
  • informing learners and employers about the inspection
  • attending all team meetings, including the final team meeting 
  • coordinating feedback arrangements during and at the end of the inspection 
  • liaising with the lead inspector and ensuring that documents are available, and that staff can attend meetings.

Gathering evidence before inspection 

Inspectors will review the following publicly-available information before the inspection visit commences:

  • the current number of learners in the following age groups: 14 to 1628; 16 to 18; 19+ 
  • the current overall number of learners (excluding apprentices) at level 1 or below, level 2, level 3 and level 4/5, by subject area 
  • the current number of intermediate, advanced and higher-level apprentices, according to age groups: 16 to 18, 19 to 24, and 25+, by subject area and by apprenticeship framework or standard 
  • the current number of learners following employability programmes andthose who have attended in the previous 12 months
  • details of learners who are on a study programme but who are not working towards a substantial qualification 
  • the current number of learners following traineeships and those who have attended in the previous 12 months 
  • the current number of learners on community learning programmes and those who have attended in the previous 12 months 
  • the current numbers of learners with SEND and the number of learners for whom high-needs funding is received 
  • the geographical spread of training premises and learners, particularly work-based learners and apprentices, according to regions or sub- regions 
  • the names and location of employers 
  • the names and location of subcontractors.

Gathering evidence during evidence 

Inspectors will spend most of their time during an inspection visit collecting first-hand evidence both on and off the college site, including – though not exclusively – through:

  • work scrutiny,
  • speaking to learners, teachers and trainers, and 
  • observing teaching, training and assessment.

Inspectors are also likely to review case studies of learners, including potentially vulnerable learners, such as learners with SEND, and including those who have high needs and young people in care. They may also ask for meetings with members of staff who work with individual learners who receive additional learning support. 

The inspection team will also, wherever possible, meet with a student representative.

Other sources of inspection evidence gathered during the visit may include:

  • discussions with learners and scrutiny of their work
  • analysis of provider and learner records, showing planning for, and monitoring of learners’ individual progress and destinations from their starting points when they began their courses or apprenticeships
  • analysis of documents relating to leadership and management
  • learner and employer questionnaires
  • meetings with learners, employers, staff, governors, board members, councillors trustees and the provider’s partners, where appropriate.

Inspecting the quality of education 

The main sources of evidence used to judge the quality of education in a college will derive from the following: 

  • direct observation 
  • evaluation of learning materials and their use by learners 
  • evaluation of the use of technology to deliver content and assess learning 
  • examination of what learners know, understand, can do and make as a result of their learning.

Let’s take a look at some of those sources in more detail…

Direct (lesson) observations 

Here, Ofsted is at pains to point out that it has no preferred teaching style. Instead, inspectors will judge the quality of education by the ways in which learners acquire knowledge, develop skills and adopt successful behaviours for work and success in life or study.

Ofsted also makes clear that it does not require staff to provide inspectors with individual lesson plans, or to provide previous lesson plans. 

Likewise, Ofsted does not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain.  Rather, inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes. Inspectors will not grade learning sessions or assessments.

Inspectors will connect observation activity to other evidence for the purpose of triangulation. 

Observation, they say, is not about evaluating individual teachers or, trainers; there will be no grading of the teaching or training observed by inspectors. Instead, inspectors will view learning across a sample of the provision to provide part of the evidence base to inform the judgments that are made against the EIF.

Work scrutiny 

In addition to lesson observations, inspectors may also scrutinise learners’ work and will do so from across the college’s provision, and then aggregate the insights they gain from this in order to provide part of the evidence for an overall view of quality of education primarily around the ‘impact’ of the education provided. 

Again, Ofsted is clear that in so doing inspectors will not evaluate individual pieces of work. Instead, inspectors will connect work scrutiny to lesson observation and, where possible, conversations with learners, staff and, where appropriate, with employers.

Inspectors may use work scrutiny to evaluate learners’ progress and progression through their course of study.  Work scrutiny should, they say, show whether learners or not know more and can do more, and whether the knowledge and skills they have learned are well sequenced and have developed incrementally.


Inspectors will use data to evaluate learners’ progress in relation to their starting points, based on their rate of learning, acquisition of knowledge, skills and behaviours and whether they have achieved their individual, challenging targets.

Judging the quality of education 

The quality of a college’s curriculum is assessed under three headings: intent, implementation and impact.  These three aspects of the college curriculum will not be graded separately but observations against each will be aggregated into an overall ‘quality of education’ grade.  Let’s take a look at each aspect in turn… 

Curriculum intent 

Inspectors will primarily consider the curriculum leadership provided by senior and subject leaders.  All learners in further education and skills deserve opportunities to follow an ambitious curriculum that enables them to build and secure the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to succeed, regardless of their intentions for study.

The curriculum is a powerful means to address social disadvantage, giving learners access to the highest levels of knowledge, skills and experience. The curriculum should be based on a firm agreement about what education and training should provide for each learner. What is the body of knowledge, and what are the technical, vocational and life skills that a learner needs so that they will thrive in the future and not be left behind? How are these influenced by the provider’s local context and learners’ typical gaps in knowledge and skills? Do they take account of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that learners bring with them?

I’ve written before about the importance of identifying these endpoints – what I called the foundational knowledge on which our curriculum is built.  I have modelled one approach to this task using assessment objectives and learning outcomes to pinpoint the specific knowledge and skills on which students’ success is contingent.  For more, click here.

I have also talked before about the importance of building a joined-up, progressive curriculum which builds on what has gone before and prepares students for what comes next.  Here, we need to ensure there is consistency – not just in what is taught – but in the language of learning and the language for learning.  For more, click here.

Inspectors will seek to assure themselves that the provider intends to include all its learners in its high academic, technical and vocational ambitions. They will also seek to assure themselves that the provider offers disadvantaged learners or those with SEND, including those who have high needs, a curriculum that remains ambitious and meets their needs. It is expected that the provider’s curriculum intent will have regard to the needs of learners, employers, and the local, regional and national economy as necessary.

I have argued before that we should “teach to the top” for all pupils, irrespective of their starting points and learning needs.  I have said we should have the same high expectations of all learners and not ‘dumb down’.  For more, click here.

When judging intent, inspectors will consider:

  • how leaders have ensured that a subject curriculum includes content which has been identified as most useful and that this content is taught in a logical progression, systematically and explicitly for all learners to acquire the intended knowledge, skills and behaviours
  • how leaders have sequenced the curriculum up to the point at which the inspection takes place 
  • how leaders ensure the curriculum supports learners’ progression and provides knowledge and/or skills for the future (including non-qualification activity where relevant) 
  • how learners see links between different areas of knowledge and skills and recognise that some knowledge and skills are transferable 
  • how carefully leaders have thought about the sequence of teaching knowledge and skills to build on what learners already know and can do.

Curriculum implementation 

Teachers need sufficient subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge to be able teach learners effectively. Ofsted recognises that there will be areas in which staff are not yet experts, so inspectors will explore what leaders are doing to support staff to ensure that no learner receives poor teaching.

Effective teaching and training should, Ofsted argue, ensure that learners know more and remember what they have learned within the context of the approach that teachers have selected to serve the aims of their curriculum. Consequently, learners will be able to apply vocational and technical skills fluently and independently. Effective teachers also check learners’ understanding effectively, identifying and correcting misconceptions.

Inspectors will evaluate how assessment supports the teaching of the curriculum, while not driving teachers towards excessive individualisation, differentiation or interventions that are almost impossible to deliver without lowering expectations of some learners and/or driving up teacher workload.

I’ve written and talked extensively about curriculum implementation, or what I termed ‘the learning process’, and about how to create a learning culture which is conducive to the transfer of knowledge from working memory into long-term memory.

I’ve posited a 3-step process: 

  1. Stimulate pupils’ senses to gain the attention of working memory, 
  2. Make pupils think hard but efficiently about curriculum content in order to encode it into long-term memory, and 
  3. Plan for deliberate practice to ensure pupils can retrieve from long-term memory their prior learning and make increasingly complex connections (or schema) to aid further learning.

For more on this learning process and long-term learning, click here.

NB. Shortly, I will post an action plan that sets out the practical, tangible things teachers and leaders can do to put cognitive load theory into practice – keep an eye on this blog or on my Twitter feed for updates.

I’ve also written about meaningful and manageable assessment practices – click here for more.

When judging curriculum implementation, inspectors will draw on the following sources of evidence:

  • discussions with subject specialists, subject leaders and teachers about the curriculum that learners follow, the intended end points towards which those learners are working, and their view of how those learners are progressing through the curriculum
  • reviews of schemes of work or other long-term planning (in whatever form teachers and/or subject leaders usually produce and use them)
  • observations of classes, workshops and other activities
  • scrutiny of work produced by learners
  • interviews with learners
  • discussions with teachers about how often they are expected to record, upload and review data
  • discussions with subject specialists and leaders about the content and pedagogical content knowledge of teachers, and what is done to support them
  • discussions with staff, including specialist staff, who support learners in the development of their knowledge, skills and behaviours.

Curriculum impact

Inspectors will make clear that there need be no conflict between teaching a broad, rich curriculum and achieving success in examinations and tests. 

A well- constructed, well-taught curriculum will lead to good results because those results will reflect what learners have learned. National tests and examinations are therefore a useful indicator of the outcomes learners achieve, and inspectors will balance these with their assessment of the achievement of learners drawn from the first-hand evidence they gather on inspection about non-qualification activity and the progress that learners make from starting points.

Learning must build towards a goal.  At each stage of learners’ education, they are being prepared for the next stage of education, training or employment or independence. Inspectors will consider whether learners are ready for the next stage by the time they leave the provider or provision that they attend. Inspectors will also consider whether learners are ready for the next stage and are going to appropriate, high-quality destinations.

Inspectors will draw on the following sources of evidence when judging impact:

  • nationally generated performance information about learners’ progress and attainment. This information is available in the inspection data summary report (IDSR), which is available to providers and inspectors
  • first-hand evidence of the progress learners are making, drawing together the evidence from the interviews, observations, work scrutiny and documentary review described above (see ‘Implementation – sources of evidence’)
  • any information provided by the provider about the destinations to which their learners progress when they leave the provider
  • telephone conversations or other similar discussions with a selection of the providers and other destinations that learners go to when they leave the provider
  • discussions with learners about what they have remembered about the
  • knowledge and skills they have acquired.

Judging behaviour and attitudes 

Here, inspectors will seek evidence of: a disciplined environment (both in college and, where applicable, in the workplace) as an essential factor for learners to be able to learn; the setting of clear expectations for behaviour across all aspects of provider life, including at work; a strong focus on attendance at and punctuality to learning and work settings so that disruption is minimised, and learners gain valuable employability skills;  learner motivation and positive attitudes to learning;  a positive provider culture in which staff know and care about learners;  an environment that does not accept bullying, harassment or discrimination, and where staff deal with such issues quickly, consistently and effectively whenever they occur.

Inspectors’ judgments about learners’ behaviour and attitudes are concerned with their attitudes to learning and, where appropriate, to work, and the development of the skills relevant to their learning programme. 

Ofsted say that inspectors’ judgments will also take account of learners’ ability to demonstrate appropriate behaviour for the learning and the work environments. Inspectors will consider the main purpose of the type of provision when they prioritise the impact that each of the criteria has on learners’ behaviour and attitudes.

Judging personal development 

Ofsted say that the college curriculum should support learners to develop their knowledge and skills beyond the purely academic, technical or vocational. 

The ‘personal development’ judgment, therefore, evaluates the provider’s intent to provide for the personal development of learners and the quality of the way in which they do this.  

Rather refreshingly, Ofsted is pragmatic in what it expects to be able to observe.  It says that although providers can take effective action to extend learners’ experiences,  the impact of this may not be seen for many years. 

As such, inspectors will not make judgments about the impact of the personal development of learners. Rather, their judgments about learners’ personal development will be concerned with the opportunities that learners get to help them develop their character, confidence and resilience. These include the opportunities and support given to learners to help keep themselves healthy, both physically and mentally. Inspectors will also consider the support learners get to develop their plans for their next steps, including to employment. 

The judgment focuses on the most significant dimensions of the personal development of learners, namely: 

  • being responsible, respectful, active citizens 
  • observing the fundamental British values of democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and mutual respect and tolerance 
  • promoting equality of opportunity and diversity 
  • keeping physically and mentally healthy  
  • receiving careers guidance 
  • being prepared for the next stage.

Judging leadership and management 

Important factors concerned with leadership and management include:

  • leaders’ high expectations of all learners and the extent to which these are embodied in day-to-day interactions with and support for learners   
  • the extent to which leaders focus their attention on the education and training they provide, leading to better outcomes for learners 
  • the alignment of continuing professional development for teachers and staff with the curriculum and the extent to which it develops teachers’ content and pedagogical knowledge over time, so that they deliver better teaching for learners 
  • the extent to which leaders ensure that learners benefit from effective teaching and consistent expectations in classrooms, in workshops, at work or with subcontractors 
  • whether leaders engage with parents, their community and employers to plan and support the education and training that learners get 
  • the extent to which leaders consider the workload and well-being of their staff to enable them to deliver a high-quality education and to develop and strengthen the quality of the workforce 
  • the extent to which leaders’ and managers’ high ambitions are for all learners, including those who are difficult to engage 
  • whether leaders and those responsible for governance understand their respective roles and carry these out to enhance the effectiveness of the provider.

Judging types of provision 

Judging education programmes for young people 

When judging education programmes for young people, inspectors will consider how well leaders and teachers promote high expectations for achievement and progress through the systems they use to monitor and develop the quality of provision for learners, including the most disadvantaged and learners with SEND, and those with high needs. 

Inspectors will also consider how leaders and teachers develop or adopt a purposeful curriculum that provides progression and stretch, as well as mathematics and English for all learners, including those without GCSE legacy grades A* to C (reformed grades 4 to 9), as well as, where relevant, work experience or industry placements and non-qualification activities. 

Inspectors will review how high-quality impartial careers guidance enables learners to make progress and move on to a higher level of qualification, employment, further training or independent living when they are ready to do so.

Judging adult learning programmes

When judging adult learning programmes, meanwhile, inspectors will judge, where appropriate, how well the curriculum for each strand of a provider’s adult learning programme such as programmes for those with SEND, vocational training, employability training and community learning, has a clearly defined purpose that is relevant to the education and training needs and interests of learners, and to local employment opportunities, and supports local and national priorities.

Inspectors will judge how effectively leaders, managers and governors focus public funding on people who are disadvantaged and least likely to participate in education and training, and work with other partners to widen participation and support learners’ progression to further learning and/or employment relevant to their personal circumstances. Where appropriate, inspectors will judge how well providers record learners’ progress and achievements to inform teaching and support programmes to help learners reach their goals.

Judging apprenticeships

When judging apprenticeship provision, inspectors will consider how well leaders and managers ensure that the apprenticeship curriculum meets the principles and requirements of an apprenticeship.

Evidence will include the extent to which the provider’s staff engage with employers to complete the apprenticeship commitment statement, plan the initial assessment, training, assessments, review points and milestones throughout, agree any additional qualifications to be included, if any, and monitor and support apprentices, including those with SEND and those who have high needs, to progress quickly, gain new knowledge, skills and behaviours and achieve to their full potential.

Inspectors will also judge how well trainers, assessors, coaches and mentors communicate up-to-date vocational and technical subject knowledge that reflects expected industry practice and meets employers’ needs. 

Inspectors will determine whether apprentices acquire that knowledge effectively so that they demonstrate the required skills and behaviours that enable them to complete their apprenticeships, contribute to their workplace and fulfil their career aims through progress to their intended job roles or other sustained employment, promotion or, where appropriate, a move to a higher level of apprenticeship or qualification.


Follow me on Twitter: @mj_bromley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.