What might catch you out in an
Ofsted inspection?


Former Ofsted inspector Richard Moore joined us to discuss common mistakes for training providers and what Ofsted wants to see from apprenticeships.

Three areas that might catch you out in your next Ofsted inspection 

As Ofsted inspections restart, we look at the areas that will be front of mind for inspectors this year and what training providers can do to prepare.

Many of the key areas for Ofsted will already be on your radar. Personal development and functional skills are nothing new – but all too often, providers get caught out by the same oversights and mistakes.

In our recent webinar, former HMI inspector and Further Education and Skills Consultant Richard Moore joined us to discuss common stumbling blocks for providers and the simple solutions that will impress inspectors. Here are three areas to look at before your next inspection.

Learners past their planned end date

If you have a substantial number of learners who are past their planned end date (double figures are usually a cause for concern), Ofsted inspectors will want to know the reasons why and what you’re doing about it. 

While learner retention is a growing issue, Richard cautions against placing the blame solely on external factors. He explains that providers and employers tend to “slightly overrate the uniqueness” of their sector and Ofsted will likely have seen the same challenges across multiple industries.

“Be careful with how much you think your sector is unique. I’ve worked with providers involved in early years, retail, health and social care, roofing – if you can name it, I’ve probably worked with a provider that delivers that standard. And I can tell you that every single sector has a multiplicity of challenges,” Richard said.

“You need to bear in mind that every time Ofsted go out on an inspection, providers – rightly or wrongly – are very quick to put the responsibility of learners being past planned end date on the sectors they work with. But a lot of inspectors will hear that on every inspection.”

Involve senior leaders and show progress

Where you do have learners past their planned end date, Ofsted will expect you to have catch-up plans in place. You need to know the reasons why learners are behind and be very clear how they’re catching up. This goes for your senior leadership team too, who Richard explains often don’t know this information.

Once you’ve created action plans, the most powerful thing you can do is to show inspectors that the plans are working.

“It’s an obvious point, but it’s very compelling if you can show that your number of learners past planned end date is reducing over time. If you’ve managed to reduce the number down from 70 to 15, of which 10 are in the gateway phase at the point of inspection, that’s going to put you in very good stead when the inspectors come knocking.”


Personal development

Personal development is a huge priority for Ofsted, but Richard has seen several providers being given a Grade 3 for personal development in the last 12 months for failing to demonstrate a planned, contextualised approach.

“The contentious issue here is how much Ofsted expects personal development to be planned. A sixth form college might give learners a Wednesday afternoon off to do sport and other activities, but you can’t do that as a training provider, can you? If an employer rings up and asks where their learners are, you can’t say they’re off playing five-a-side football,” he said.

That said, there are ways to overcome this. Richard has been working with a training provider who has included suggestions of areas that tutors can integrate into their teaching alongside the vocational scheme of work, which demonstrates a planned approach.

Record workplace courses and training

Another useful tip from Richard is to ask learners in reviews about any personal development work they’re doing with their employers. 

“In the bigger companies in particular, they’re probably doing courses around mental health first aid and sustainability, or charity work. That all counts as personal development. No, you’re not delivering it, but it’s only the same as on-the-job training – it’s all part of their apprenticeship. A lot of providers miss a trick in not recording what the learner is doing at work and not telling Ofsted about it,” he said.

“I was at a provider a few weeks ago, where some of the learners were telling me that they were designing an intranet for mindfulness and mental health in their workplace. That very much sits under the banner of personal development, so think about how you could capture that evidence.”

English and maths skills

“How many times have we been around the block with English and maths?” Richard asked.  Functional skills remain a common pain point with persistently low achievement rates, but Richard has seen some bright spots in how they’re being delivered.

Ofsted will expect you to be developing English and maths skills throughout the vocational curriculum, and doing so in a meaningful way – learners need to be able to relate and use the skills in their job roles. Crucially, this means that you’re not telling tutors to shoehorn English and maths into every lesson.

“If you tell tutors to do it in every lesson, what invariably happens is that they cut and paste the same thing across every lesson plan, rather than picking up on really meaningful opportunities,” Richard said.

“There might be certain technical words that they need to learn in relation to a module, or a lesson where a learner says something that might promote a discussion about an aspect of English or maths. That’s where it’s going to be appropriate.”

Remember report writing and customer service

There’s also an expectation from Ofsted that even if a learner has their prerequisite qualifications, you’re still having conversations with them about their development of English and maths skills in the workplace. 

This catches a lot of providers out. However, Richard points out that English covers a wide range of skills in the workplace, from the way people speak to customers to how they write reports. By talking to both learners and employers, you find out what specific skills they might struggle with. 

“I saw a brilliant review recently with a Polish learner who had very good spoken English, but he was telling his tutor about how he struggles to write formal emails to senior managers. The tutor was going to send him some examples of their own redacted emails to show how to write a formal email. That’s a fundamental skill the learner needs to progress in their career.”

Get more Ofsted insights from our recent webinar

Listen to our full conversation with Richard for more insights into what Ofsted are looking for this year. Catch up with the webinar on demand here or follow us on LinkedIn to be the first to hear about future webinars and events.