Ofsted inspections of degree apprenticeships in England


What changes might HEIs have to make to their degree-apprenticeship provision to be better prepared for Ofsted inspections?

On the 28 September it was confirmed that Ofsted will be given powers to inspect all Level 6 and Level 7 apprenticeships, including degree-apprenticeships, which had previously been in the remit of the Office for Students.

So, what does this announcement mean for HEIs? How will Ofsted being involved in inspection change the way HEIs are set up to deliver degree-level apprenticeships?

To find out, we asked Louise Doyle – an SDN Strategic Associate and Managing Director of Quality Assurance software company Mesma – to talk us through publicly-available Ofsted data on universities and give us some insight through her own experience of working with HEIs on their quality assurance practices…


What information is there on Ofsted inspections in HEIs currently?

“There is actually a fair amount of insight into what Ofsted thinks of HEI apprenticeship delivery. This is because numerous universities have been delivering Level 4 and 5 apprenticeships alongside their degree-apprenticeship programmes in recent years.

“Of the 21 universities receiving a full/short inspection of apprenticeship provision in the 2018/19-19/20 academic year, 2 were graded as ‘Outstanding’, 16 were graded as ‘Good’ and 3 as ‘Requires Improvement’.

“However, all Ofsted inspection activity ceased in March 2020 during the pandemic, resulting in the delay to universities who could have reasonably assumed they would receive their first full inspection or a monitoring visit. This means that although there is insight, university exposure to the new Education Inspection Framework is still pretty limited. As with other providers, it’s frustrating for those universities who have worked extremely hard to improve their provision, to be left with a grade that is not a true reflection of their current apprenticeships”


Can you summarise the positives from those HEI Ofsted reports?

“The main positives that can be seen in the reports are:

  • Vision and leadership of apprenticeship provision
  • Effective design of apprenticeship programmes
  • High quality teaching and assessment practice
  • Access to high quality careers advice
  • Access to a broad range of additional activities / support
  • Safeguarding arrangements
  • Relationship with employers in both design and delivery
  • Apprentices successfully complete their programme”


What about areas for improvement?

“Things universities sometimes struggle with, according to the Ofsted reports are:

  • Management information is either not available or not used well enough to inform programme quality of delivery
  • Apprentices progress and attendance is not monitored sufficiently to identify and manage risks
  • The results of maths and English assessments are not used well to inform delivery
  • Apprentices start point is not used well to inform delivery
  • British values and the risks of radicalisation are not featured in programme delivery”


Do these strengths and weaknesses match what you see working directly with HEIs on quality assurance?   

“Our first-hand knowledge of working with university colleagues at all levels of apprenticeship delivery supports these findings. We find the same strengths and weaknesses to varying degrees at all levels of provision

I would  add the following to the themes noted above as a ‘regardless of Ofsted’, here are some things to consider:

  1. When used well, the process of course validation or approval is critical to ensuring apprenticeship programmes are appropriately designed and accountabilities are understood.


  1. The annual cycle of course / programme review adopted by universities does not sufficiently seek to ask questions of apprenticeship provision. This impacts on the capacity of those doing the reflecting to develop their knowledge and understanding of the requirements.
  2. The apprenticeship is too often taking a back seat to the degree. This is evident when speaking to lecturers, programme leaders and apprentices and, when reviewing course handbooks and other documentation. This gap exists at L4 and L5, but we notice it widens at L6. This potentially impacts on future achievement rates and funding.


  1. There is still work to do to ensure the roles and responsibilities of those teaching module content and those delivering other features of the apprenticeship (such as apprentice reviews) are clear, and the lines of communication are regular and productive.
  2. As a product of apprenticeships being relatively new for most universities, the wider governance processes to oversee quality and compliance are not always suitable, applied or resourced well.


  1. University teams could be better at putting their best foot forward during inspection. There are many aspects of university capacity and capability that staff at all levels take for granted as being the norm.


So, in summary, do you think Ofsted’s involvement in degree-apprenticeship provision will be a force for good? 

“Whilst the process of inspection may not necessarily be one that HEIs would choose to engage with, I would argue the learning from it and the resulting improvements made to apprenticeships being delivered at all levels, has a net benefit.

“There are many positives to take from inspection outcomes to date. Where weaknesses have been identified, universities have often (and rightly) applied the improvements across all levels of apprenticeships, to embed the changes into broader policies and processes. Arguably therefore, the process of inspecting Level 4 and 5 provision has had a positive impact on the overall quality of apprenticeship provision and can do so at Levels 6 and 7 too.”


Looking for external support with your apprenticeship quality assurance?

To find out more about insightQ quality assurance software contact us on hello@mesma.co.uk

To find out more about our quality consultancy services work with SDN, contact hello@strategicdevelopmentnetwork.co.uk



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