5 SAR Tips for Independent Training Providers

It’s self assessment season: five tips for independent training providers

We’re in the middle of self assessment season in FE & Skills in England. If you lead on quality for a small independent training provider, the SAR and QIP development is an extra hat on top of your many other hats.

To help you power through, here are my five top tips to help you get maximum value for your efforts, and upload your report to the Ofsted gateway early in the new year to get 2023 off to a great start.

  • Move away from the Ofsted handbook

Yes, you’ll come back to it to provide structure to your report but don’t start with it when reflecting on your year. Why? It’s easy to get lost in the weeds rather than focus on what you set out to achieve. What goals did you set for yourself? Were they the right ones? How did you plan to measure success? Was it clear to everyone that’s what the goals were? Did you achieve them? Is it an improving picture from previous years? Did you live your values? What got in the way if you didn’t? What problems do we want to resolve?

Relying solely on the regulatory framework to inform your SAR can be dull, blinkered and too often, results in lots of writing without much helpful discussion.

  • This isn’t a one-person job

Too often in small ITPs, self assessment falls to one person, which can be overwhelming and risks a report that isn’t owned by everyone. This has a negative impact on making it genuinely useful, and makes it harder to prioritise and deliver the QIP. If we must bring Ofsted into a blog on good QA practice, it also risks your confidence in bringing your A-game to the table with a consistent, shared understanding of strengths and areas for improvement.

Consider how to capture the voice of your learners, employers, and staff as part of the process. Use your board or external support to bring objectivity to the process. Remember it’s an opportunity to celebrate, support, and challenge everyone in your organisation, sharing both what you are collectively most proud of as well as the frustrations that impact on the learner experience.

I’ve created a 4-day SAR development timetable which Mesma users (including those ITPs on the entry-level free version) can access in the help centre via the app. Just search on 4 Day SAR timetable when you’re online.

  • The Ofsted Framework is your friend (mostly)

I can’t imagine not using the Ofsted framework to structure a SAR report because it will give you the comfort you’re speaking the same language as inspectors when they arrive. However, there’s a more logical flow through it when writing it than just following the sections in the handbook if you want to bring it to life and create a birds-eye view of your provision.

  1. Start by exploring whether you have high expectations for learners as part of your vision and values, and how well you engage with external stakeholders in your community to develop this. (Leadership and Management)
  2. Head to ‘Curriculum Intent’ to consider how that vision translates into your curriculum offer and the structure of your programmes (don’t forget to consider how you intended to cover the key topics in ‘Personal Development’ as integral to the programme. (Quality of Education)
  3. Follow the flow down to Curriculum Implementation, and alongside this consider ‘Behaviours and Attitudes’ of your learners. (Quality of Education)
  4. Finish the remaining sections of ‘Leadership and Management’ reflecting on the effectiveness of performance management, governance, and safeguarding arrangements.
  5. And only then, consider ‘Impact’, reminding yourself of the emphasis on progress from individual learner start point (Quality of Education).

Taking this route through the handbook helps to provide structure for your own unique story.

  • You don’t need to write as much as you think you do

Mesma users will know we make the text boxes visually small. Yes, I know you can make them bigger if you want to, but you can only lead a horse to water! The more you write, the more you’ve dropped into describing what you do rather than focusing on evaluating what you do. You might be surprised to know that some of the biggest providers in the country limit their overall SAR to a maximum of 15-20 pages. It’s not a target but if you’re a relatively small provider there’s no need for a SAR when printed to be more than 15 pages long. Ideally less.

Placing a limit on length, forces you to use your words wisely. You don’t need to describe or write lots of detail about the evidence – just reference it. You can hear one of our clients, The PMA, talk about the value of attaching evidence in a SAR here

A SAR reads well when you use the voice of your learners, employers, and team members to illustrate your judgments.

  • Focus on impact- ALWAYS

This applies to both your SAR and your QIP. Your aim is that together, they inform fast, clear, and impactful decision-making. When you evaluate performance, come back to the impact your actions had on your learners. When you write your QIP, be clear about the result you intend for your actions to have on your learners.

The SAR should feed into and steer the activities in your QIP. Too often there is a disjoint between the two. When you’ve got your final draft, ask someone who hasn’t been involved in writing it to tell you if they can clearly see the links between them as sometimes, it’s hard to see the wood from the trees.

Mesma is a one source, many solutions quality assurance platform. It is for leaders whose organisation’s QA depend on them and their people having access to up-to-date information they can be confident in – quickly, and accurately – in whatever way and at whatever times work best for them. That way, they can move on to doing what matters most, for those who matter most. 

I’ve created a 4-day SAR development timetable which Mesma users (including those ITPs on the entry-level free version) can access in the help centre via the app. Just search for “4 Day SAR timetable” when you’re online.

Louise is the CEO at Mesma

About Mesma
Mesma is for organisations that depend on having access to up-to-date information they can be confident in – quickly, accurately, and when they need it. So that they can move on to doing what matters most, for those who matter most.
The software makes self-assessment writing more engaging, accessible, and useful for everyone.
Mesma is unique in combining quality assurance expertise with software to provide a package of support that helps you to deliver world-class provision.

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