What are Ofsted inspectors looking for in 2024?

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If you’re preparing for an Ofsted inspection this year, there are a number of specific areas that will set outstanding training providers apart from the rest. But what makes a great Ofsted inspection?

We spoke to Richard Moore, Further Education and Skills Consultant about the latest requirements for apprenticeships and what Ofsted inspectors will be looking for.

A robust skills assessment

Ofsted will look closely at how you decide who is a good candidate for an apprenticeship programme. Skills scans for potential new learners are now a mandatory requirement and need to be a genuine part of the selection process – not something that’s done after they’ve already signed up. Bear in mind that Ofsted can check in with your apprentices about this.

Make sure the criteria for the skills scan is easy for learners to understand. In particular, look out for any language that’s complex because not everyone’s first language will be English. It’s also a good idea to assess learners’ current competence in English and mathematics, as they may have achieved their grades a long time ago.

If the candidate hasn’t been in formal education for some time, don’t forget to discuss study skills like essay writing and digital capabilities. This will demonstrate to inspectors that you're doing everything you can to ensure they’re well prepared for the rigours of the apprenticeship.

Customised training plans based on skills scans

Training providers will need to evidence to Ofsted how they’ve used outcomes of the skills scans to create individual training plans (ITPs) for learners and programmes that:

  1. Recognise any prior learning.
  2. Record planned off-the-job (OTJ) training at the outset of their apprenticeship.

The new ESFA funding rules for 2023/24 state that all planned off-the-job training activity (not just shadowing and mentoring) must be agreed in advance of delivery.

Richard suggests that providers ask themselves the following questions:

  • How do you verify the outcomes of the skills scans completed by learners?
  • What do you do with the outcomes, particularly where learners score themselves very highly against any of the criteria and can demonstrate significant prior knowledge, skills and/or behaviours?
  • Can you show inspectors examples of where you have customised an ITP and learning programme based on the outcomes of the skills scan?
  • Can you show inspectors examples of ITPs that contain the OTJ training planned for learners?

Learner progress is being tracked

Many providers fail to track learners’ development of knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) in sufficient detail. However, Richard describes it as “the one area more than any other that sets outstanding providers apart from the rest”.

Where there is a qualification within (or offered alongside) the apprenticeship standard, progress reviews often focus on completing coursework for that qualification. And, even where there isn’t a qualification incorporated, KSBs rarely receive the level of focus that Ofsted will be looking for.

“Any discussion about the KSBs is frequently relegated to a brief chat about one or two bits of knowledge and/or skills that the learner has developed since their previous progress review and nothing more,” Richard said.

“But given that the last review was probably eight to 12 weeks ago, inspectors would expect to see significant progress in new KSBs developed and evidenced both on and off the job – and for a large part of the review to be devoted to discussions around this.”

For example, has the apprentice gained skills that would boost their employability? Are they becoming more confident in their work? How have their capabilities developed, like being able to use technology or handle telephone calls?

Richard adds the following questions:

  • Do all staff, employers and learners themselves understand that the learner is on an apprenticeship standard, and that it’s crucial to have evidence of a strong focus on the development of new KSBs?
  • Is there sufficient time during progress reviews to fully discuss the progress learners have made against the KSBs since the previous review, and what evidence they have to support that progress?
  • Do you track and update learners’ initial skills scan scores at progress reviews based on the progress they are making?
  • What evidence could you show inspectors to prove that you monitor progress against the KSB for each individual learner?

Watch on demand: Richard Moore joins members of the Bud team to discuss
how to drive successful Ofsted inspection outcomes

Personal development and wellbeing plans

There’s more focus than ever on improving mental health and wellbeing.

As a result, companies often deliver courses on the topic, covering everything from healthy eating to mindfulness. Additionally, lots of businesses have schemes that allow staff to complete more formal mental health training or donate time to community work.

Since Ofsted will be looking for a planned programme of personal development for learners, it’s important to record any training like the above.

“Providers often miss a trick in not capturing the personal development training that a lot of apprentices receive in the workplace from their employer,” Richard explained.

“Quite a few apprenticeship providers have been given a grade three for Personal Development by Ofsted because of this expectation and a lack of evidence around a planned approach.”

A key aspect of personal development is to make sure you can provide evidence that training is in the context of the apprenticeship. Does it suit the level and age group of the learners?

Support for learners with additional learning needs

A noticeable trend for Richard is that Ofsted inspectors are “increasingly interested” in how well supported learners are who have additional learning needs.

“This is often a challenging area for training providers who don’t receive the same levels of funding as colleges to give learners additional support, or who can’t attract the same levels of expertise by way of staffing to work with these learners,” Richard explained.

It’s common for providers not to claim Additional Learning Support (ALS) funding because they’re unsure of the eligibility criteria or worried about providing the right evidence. However, Ofsted won’t look at any funding claims – the focus will be on evaluating how you are planning and delivering this additional support.

“The inspectors won’t examine your funding claims – that is ESFA territory. But they will talk to relevant learners and training staff about how well supported they feel, and may well ask to see detailed records of the support you are providing them with,” Richard adds.

Safeguarding protocols

Finally, safeguarding continues to be a huge focus for Ofsted, as outlined in its further education and skills handbook.

Inspectors will look at how leaders and managers have adapted approaches to safeguarding in recent years to make sure that:

  • Delivering face-to-face education for vulnerable learners was prioritised
  • Safeguarding procedures remained effective for remote learners

Important areas for investigation by Ofsted would include policies and procedures, actions taken and record keeping, staff training and awareness raising for learners.

Protecting young learners online

As Richard points out, Ofsted’s guidance only refers to “children”, or learners that are aged 18 and under.

While that means providers with exclusively adult learners wouldn’t technically receive the same scrutiny, it’s vital to take your safeguarding responsibilities seriously regardless of the age group.

“Be sensible and move away from the ‘doing it for the sake of an Ofsted inspection’ philosophy. We all know that the risk of sexual abuse and harassment at work and personal lives does not stop at age 18,” Richard said.

“You could expect Ofsted to discuss your arrangements to keep learners safe in this regard and to raise awareness. Whether they could criticise these arrangements if all your learners are aged 18 and over is an interesting point.”

Get Ofsted ready with Bud

Bud is a joined-up training management platform that’s designed to streamline apprenticeship delivery. With Bud, you’ll get visibility over learner progress and all the data you need to support your Ofsted inspection. See the platform in action by booking a free demo.