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Webinar: Ofsted in the HE sector – insights from an inspection nominee

People watching an Aptem webinar with Ofsted nominee

We were delighted to welcome Ian Harper from Buckinghamshire New University (BNU) as a webinar guest speaker for members of the Aptem HE Forum.

Ian, who heads up the apprenticeship provision at BNU, shared his experience of being an Ofsted inspection nominee. Ian was joined by Kerry Boffey, CEO & Founder of the Fellowship of Inspection Nominees (FIN). Kerry gave her expert views on the key themes highlighted by Ian.

Now available to watch on demand, this is a unique opportunity to hear directly from a nominee on the HE Ofsted experience. The webinar will likely be of interest to all those involved with delivering apprenticeships in the HE and other sectors. Watch the webinar in full for invaluable advice ranging from long-term strategic preparation to the details of how to ensure seamless operations during an inspection.

This webinar covers:

– An overview of the Ofsted experience from the nominee’s perspective.
– Key themes arising from the inspection.
– Learnings and action planning.
– Advice for HE peers.
– Insight from inspection and quality experts, FIN.


A comprehensive approach to Ofsted inspection

Ian’s journey through the process of Ofsted inspection at BNU was both challenging and enlightening. His story, supported by insights from Kerry, with her vast experience as a former Ofsted inspector and through leading FIN, provides a roadmap for institutions preparing for inspection.

With more than 25 years in the education sector, Ian’s extensive background laid a strong foundation for facing Ofsted inspections with confidence. His tenure at BNU highlighted a strategic approach to preparing for Ofsted. It emphasised the importance of not just reactive measures but a holistic, forward-thinking preparation strategy that started well before the inspection began.

Key strategies for Ofsted inspection readiness

 – Understanding Ofsted’s framework:

Ian emphasised the importance of understanding the Ofsted framework and keeping the Self-Assessment Report (SAR) and Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) up-to-date and reflective of current practices. This allowed the team to align BNU’s practices with the expected standards and criteria. This alignment was fundamental in not just meeting, but exceeding Ofsted’s expectations in several areas.

– Preparation is key:

Kerry echoed Ian’s sentiments on preparation. She stressed that institutions fare better when they adopt continuous, proactive preparation strategies rather than last-minute efforts.

– Data mastery:

A strong grasp on data usage was crucial for the BNU team. Knowing what data to present and how it supports the narrative of improvement, compliance and a deep understanding of student outcomes were key aspects of their preparation. This strategic use of data served as a cornerstone of their evidence-based preparation.

 – The role of FIN membership:

BNU’s affiliation with FIN proved invaluable. FIN’s resources and guidance contributed to refining their strategies. It provides an external lens to their preparation and ensuring that BNU remained on top of the latest inspection criteria and best practices.

– Shadow Nominee role:

Perhaps one of the most strategic moves was the implementation of a Shadow Nominee role. This allows for shared workload and providing a backup, ensuring continuity and comprehensive coverage of inspection activities.

– Practical and logistical preparations:

The detail of your logistical preparation can have a huge impact. From finding sufficient activity to keep inspectors occupied, to organising sufficient access to Aptem and other systems for inspectors, to choosing a suitably located base room with the right equipment.

– Continuous Professional Development (CPD):

Engaging in continuous professional development, especially in areas highlighted by Ofsted trends, ensures that institutions stay ahead and ready for inspection.

– Inspectors’ focus areas:

Understanding common focus areas of inspectors, such as careers advice and guidance or interventions and progress monitoring, can help institutions prepare and address these effectively before the inspection.

We’re hugely grateful to Ian and Kerry for sharing their insights so openly. Together, they emphasise the importance of preparation, leadership, and the strategic use of data and evidence in succeeding in an Ofsted inspection. Institutions are encouraged to take advantage of resources like FIN and keep abreast of the latest inspection frameworks and trends.

Additional Q&A

We covered as many questions as we could during the webinar. However, additional questions people asked the Ofsted nominee have been answered here:

Q: Are your APMs subject matter experts in each of the standards?

A: Not all of them, and it isn’t a requirement. Where an APM has expertise we pair them with an appropriate programme, but flexibility is also important. Our ways of working mean that any APM can cover any programme. They typically cover one programme but, in some areas, where there are smaller learner numbers, they may have two or three programmes represented in their caseload. It also means we can redeploy APMs to cover sickness, leave, etc. where needed.

Q: Was your inspection later than it should have been / within dates?

A: We had been expecting inspection for some time. Having never been fully inspected for apprenticeship provision and having grown from nothing to c.1000 in four years, we expected inspection and had been preparing since 2021.

About the speakers

Ian Harper

Ian Harper has worked in education and skills for 25 years. His previous experience was at an independent training provider, becoming Chief Executive in 2010. In 2014 he joined Buckinghamshire New University (BNU) to oversee the construction and establishment of the Aylesbury campus in partnership with the local FE college, and has led the University’s degree apprenticeship provision since 2018.

Ian has been a governor of an FE college for the last nine years and has held governor roles at a primary school and a school for children with special needs. He has experienced many Ofsted and Adult Learning Inspectorate inspections in those various roles, and has been nominee on three occasions, most recently in September 2023 for BNU.

As Commercial & Business Development Director, Ian has responsibility for academic partnerships, apprenticeships and commercial aspects of the University’s business such as accommodation and fundraising.

Kerry Boffey

Kerry Boffey is the CEO and Founder of The Fellowship of Inspection Nominees (FIN). As a former Ofsted inspector, with 17 years’ experience, Kerry has worked across the UK, and on international projects, managing teams and providers through very challenging inspections due to their complexity.

This in-depth understanding of inspection, alongside concerns for the lack of effective preparation by providers, was the driver behind the Fellowship of Inspection Nominees (FIN) being set up. Membership of FIN includes all types of providers, and Kerry and her team support and strengthen the nominee role in preparation for Ofsted inspections.

Further resources

Using Aptem to inform your Self-Assessment Report (SAR)

Ofsted, data, and the role of your apprenticeship delivery system

As your needs evolve, so does the suite of Aptem products. We partner with providers across the sector, offering so much more than technology alone – insight, development, support and guidance. Talk to us today.

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