Interview with Chris Jones, Her Majesty’s Inspector — Specialist Adviser for Apprenticeships
There’s no avoiding Ofsted if you are an apprenticeship provider. All new apprenticeship providers delivering up to level 5 will get a visit from Ofsted, generally within two years of setting up, and existing providers get regular inspections, the frequency of which depends on their rating.
So what can providers expect? MWS’s Deborah Talbot talked with Chris Jones, HMI, Specialist Adviser for Apprenticeships, about the purpose of inspections, what Ofsted are looking for, and what’s new in apprenticeship compliance.
Hello, Chris. Let’s start with the basics. Why are Ofsted inspections necessary?
The Learning and Skills Act of 2000 requires all publiclyfunded programmes to go through an external quality check. When the Adult Learning Inspectorate merged with Ofsted in 2007, it became the responsibility of Ofsted. So, the necessity comes from statute, and the overall purpose is to check that learners and apprentices are getting what the public purse is paying for – quality education leading to increased skills and improved life chances.
What’s in it for the providers?
Let’s take the example of apprenticeships. The core business of any provider is the progress that apprentices make – the knowledge and skills they acquire and the competencies they can then demonstrate as a result of their learning.
With that core aim, providers have a framework against which they can judge the quality of their provision and ensure they are meeting the requirements. There’s a sort of synergy between the expectations set out in the funding rules and what we inspect in terms of the quality of apprenticeship delivery.
In essence, inspection gives a quality mark – it means that the provider has been tested externally and has been awarded an appropriate grade to match the quality of the work that they’re doing.
So it all relates to the quality of the product, marketing, and getting paid.
Yes, exactly. We’re not stupid. Providers are businesses, and quality outcomes mean that you get paid. I think that’s important whether you’re a prime contractor or one of the increasingly rare subcontractors.
It always surprises me that there are people out there who set up training businesses and appear to be surprised there are quality rules attached to that. If we’re setting up a cafe, we’d be hoping that when a food safety inspector came in to check us, we’d get our five stars to say we’re clean and we’re doing things the right way. We’re paying our business rates. We’ve understood about the employment of staff and all the regulations that are attached to a business.
Regulations apply to every business, but astonishingly, there are providers out there who do not seem to be aware of the regulatory framework that applies to them.
What are the criteria around which judgement is made on an inspection?
For a monitoring visit, inspectors make judgments around three themes– leadership, the quality and outcomes of training, and safeguarding.
Let’s take the example of leadership and management. Are leaders and managers developing and delivering a curriculum that enables learners to gain the knowledge and skills they need? Are those leaders and managers working effectively within the compliance framework that is set up within the funding rules? Do those leaders and managers know what they’re doing? Do they know the market they’ve entered into and are they running programmes effectively? Are they training their staff to ensure they know what they are doing? Are they preparing learners effectively? Are they meeting the employer’s needs?
On a monitoring visit, the rationale is the preparedness of relatively new providers to have a full inspection. Do they know the systems sufficiently for us to ensure or assure that providers could go through a full inspection and get a grade of good or better? When we’re making a progress judgement, it’s progress towards that end.
What would a provider look like if they weren’t meeting those criteria?
From what we’ve seen, they may have apprentices who don’t know they’re on an apprenticeship or learners who are not being appropriately prepared for the English and maths requirements.
Apprentices may be taught by staff who have not evolved their method of teaching to match the standard and the development and demonstration of the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for the role. Instead, they’re just assessing stuff.
Is there anything upcoming in Ofsted compliance?
There is the Education Inspection Framework, which we launched on the 1st of September. The sector should know about it already as it’s been piloted extensively and was out for public consultation.
What’s different about the Framework is the focus on curriculum. Apprenticeship standard documents don’t say much about the content of learning and how learners get to the point of acquiring the skills, knowledge and behaviours set out in the standard. Providers and employers, therefore, need to think about the development stages an apprentice goes through before they are judged to be competent. That might mean there are layers of competence or times when you move the curriculum on when an apprentice can carry out the specific tasks independently and fluently, and then you say ok, right, they’re ready for the next stage.
So, for example, in hospitality and catering, if we had an apprentice working in a restaurant, they may for the first month or so be at work setting and clearing tables. Once they’ve mastered that customer service skill, they might be taking orders. So, it’s about getting that layered experience over time aligned with the knowledge and skills they need to develop. And the curriculum discussion will be about what is it that we as a provider are teaching. When are we teaching it? How does that fit with the employer’s expectations of what they will do at work?
Does that mean that providers should be looking at new forms of pedagogy, such as personalised learning?
Our view is that you use what works for your learners. That might well be an individualised programme – and in apprenticeships, because people join at different times, then individualisation might well be relevant. However, there’s also a place for whole-class teaching.
But it’s more about the body of knowledge that a group of learners need to know. How do we deliver that? We’re never going to say, “do it in a particular way”. What we will consider is whether or not the methodologies that providers have used have been effective in helping apprentices and learners develop their knowledge, improve their understanding, and then apply that knowledge and understanding as skills.
We have a new government and a shifting policy. What do you think is on the horizon when it comes to apprenticeship compliance?
I don’t have a crystal ball! However, if I put my Russell Grant or Clare Petulengro head on and looked at the stars, I would say that, regardless of who is in government, there will be continuity in apprenticeship and Ofsted inspection policy because skills training – and a quality framework for it – is so necessary.
I think the first big question is, however, whether there is enough funding for apprenticeships. The second is about access to training for young people and adults at level 2, and we have seen numbers falling there. Higherlevel apprenticeships are essential for economic productivity, but so is level 2. And there are young people and adults that perhaps have not been well served by our education system to date, who need opportunities to start employment or gain the literacy and numeracy skills they need to get a job.
And Ofsted has a role to play in that. Through our annual report, we inform Parliament about what we’ve seen through our inspection and survey work. Sometimes that means we have to report, without fear or favour, about some of the unintended consequences of government policy. The drive for higher-level apprenticeships, which is a good thing, has led to a misunderstanding in practice. It is too easy to see higher-levels as a marker of high quality. That is absolutely not the case. Quality is quality – the level doesn’t matter.