Ofsted versus the pandemic – lessons for the future?

As we begin to slowly emerge from the pandemic, so too does Ofsted in England, with the announcement of their plans for the Autumn. I suspect there has been some challenging conversations around the Ofsted top table. It’s difficult to imagine an organisation that has so swiftly been made temporarily redundant from a position of influence and power, perhaps with the exception of my hairdresser.

When education providers have time to do so, they will no doubt reflect on how they have responded and adapted to Covid. There will be many stories of things that have gone well and equally, (like all of us) there are some things we’ve done that we wouldn’t like to repeat in a hurry.

It’s interesting to consider how this conversation would play out within Ofsted. It’s particularly interesting for me, as I’m fortunate to work with organisations overseeing external quality assurance elsewhere in the world and it’s hard not to make comparisons. Whilst all have been impacted, there are some noteable differences. I hope someone, somewhere – perhaps the OECD – decides to investigate and report back more fully so we can share the learning.

The different roles these organisations have played, often depends on their regulatory responsibility. For example, regulatory bodies with dual responsibility for both funding and quality have continued to have ongoing contact with education providers; very often in a supportive capacity. In other cases, where the system focuses heavily on education providers self evaluating their own provision(similar to QAA), with validation of their internal judgements by an external body, whilst it’s not quite business as usual, the impact has been less noticeable. We’re yet to see whether these differences in approach are effective so it woud be wrong to judge appropriateness.

What would have without doubt been the wrong decision, would have been the continuation of external inspection during such a difficult time for education providers.

Looking ahead, I’m positive about the return of Ofsted. On the fringes, there is poor provision that needs to be challenged to assure quality for learners. Equally, there are many providers with a current judgement of ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Insufficent Progress’ – based on provision delivered in some cases in excess of 12 months ago – who need and want to be inspected in order to recognise the significant work that has been undertaken to improve their provision. These judgements standing still for too long has a direct impact on opportunities to grow their offer, supporting more learners and employers when it is most needed.

If I were a decision-maker at Ofsted, here are the five questions I’d be asking of our organisation:

  • Our current model relies almost entirely on in-person interaction. Are there ways in which this can or should be adapted to a. limit the risk of suspension of activity during a crisis, when the risks of quality deteriorating could be high and/or b. improve the efficiency/ effectiveness of inspection during business as usual?
  • The move from the CIF to the EIF resulted in a shift in emphasis in relation to self assessment; from validation of a provider’s own judgements to a supporting artefact during the process of inspection. Should this be rebalanced to place more emphasis on validation of provider’s making accurate judgements of strengths and weaknesses to ease the pressure on the system and prepare for a potential second wave?
  • Did the FE & Skills sector make use of the offer to redeploy HMIs in the field? To what extent? With what impact? How could the process of redeployment and desired impact be improved in future?
  • Were business continuity plans to ensure a return on investment during a crisis for the tax-payer sufficient? What would we change in future?
  • How can we support the sector to share good practice and emerging issues as a result of Covid at pace to help inform the sector’s planning in preparation for a second wave?


I look forward to your comments and challenge.

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