The Ofsted Diary part two: SARs and challenging weaknesses

In the second instalment of our Ofsted Diary series, The Learning Enterprise’s Sarah van der Merwe shares the rest of her inspection journey.

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In the second instalment of our Ofsted Diary series, The Learning Enterprise’s Sarah van der Merwe shares the rest of her Ofsted inspection journey to a well-earned Outstanding grade.

 

In part two of Sarah’s exclusive Ofsted diary, you’ll learn:

  • The benefits of keeping your Self Assessment Report up to date
  • What you can do to challenge areas of weakness
  • How to keep your team motivated during the inspection

Missed the first instalment? You can jump to part one of Sarah’s Ofsted diary here.

 

How Self Assessment Reports influence inspections

Most training providers will update their Self Assessment Report (SAR) every year, although it’s not mandatory. 

Ofsted asked me if ours was up to date and thankfully it was, because we work on it every month. However, they still gave me the opportunity in the planning meeting to give it a quick update and spell check, before we sent it across.

The SAR influenced some of the areas they were going to check. So in our SAR, we’d said that we felt some assessors lacked confidence in functional skills and listed the actions we were going to put in place. Part of the assessment was checking in with the assessors and looking at those skills.

Our assessors got asked questions like:

  • What’s your work-life balance?
  • What’s your caseload like?
  • How were you supported in the transition to online delivery?
  • What continued professional development (CPD) have you continued to have?

All these questions were meant to identify whether we’d been a good provider to our assessors. Ofsted allowed us to set up groups of assessor interviews too, so it wasn’t just one person. I think it can be quite daunting for our assessors to be put in the spotlight, because they know how important it is. 

It was nice that they were in groups and I had some really good feedback from the team to say how the inspectors didn’t put them on edge. They actually welcomed the observations and the joint work scrutiny. 

 

Getting feedback on key judgement areas

We found that each inspector focused on a different key judgement area. In the evening meetings, they would feed back on each of those key themes.

So we’d have a half-hour meeting every morning to check in with the lead inspector. Then last thing in the day, we’d have a feedback meeting with all three inspectors. The inspectors would go through strengths and weaknesses, and any areas they were unsure on. 

At that point, I could challenge those points in a positive way. If I felt there was something that wasn’t quite right, I could direct them towards other evidence. I could say, “I hear you, but tomorrow I want you to go and speak to this learner and see the differences there”. 

A good example was careers advice and guidance, which they hadn’t seen much of. I had to do some thinking about it overnight because we felt it was a real sticking point for us. 

We’d already created a career ladder, but the next morning we had to put our case forward and say, this is our approach. We can do CV writing and interview sessions; we’ve got the resources and tools. And it seemed to meet the brief.

Quote Marks
SARAH VAN DER MERWE, THE LEARNING ENTERPRISE, HEAD OF APPRENTICESHIPS
“I could challenge those points in a positive way. If I felt there was something that wasn’t quite right, I could direct them towards other evidence.”

Sharing feedback with the team

After the late afternoon meeting with Ofsted, I scheduled a meeting with the rest of my team: the managing director, compliance manager, and quality and programme leads.

Doing the meeting straight away made sure I could give feedback while it was still fresh. I’d already prepared my team that it was going to be a long few days too, so they knew to bear with us.

 

Putting everything into the final Ofsted day

Before the final day, I fed back to the team in the evening. The mood was almost like, “right, tomorrow is our last day to put whatever we can in”. 

We spent a bit longer thinking about what else we could put in front of them. We added in two extra meetings, one of which was to reconfirm the careers advice and guidance and what we were going to do moving forward. 

The following day, I got a call from the lead inspector at midday to tell me she’d seen enough. She didn’t want to do her afternoon meetings. I had no idea if that was good or bad – it was the longest few hours waiting. 

 

Finding out the proposed Ofsted grade

Eventually, the inspector invited me into the final meeting. She thanked me for our time and asked me to get my education inspection framework (EIF) book so we could go through the checklist of criteria together. 

We then worked through all the key judgement areas and she kept listing strengths. I thought that we were going to get a Good grade because there weren’t any weaknesses.

Then she said her proposed grade was Outstanding. I was blown away; I actually wanted to cry. I was so emotionally surprised. Our inspector told us it was only the third one she’d ever given and that she felt really honoured doing so.

My team was panicking at this point because I was late to our call, but I had a few minutes to go back and tell them the good news. 

SARAH VAN DER MERWE, THE LEARNING ENTERPRISE, HEAD OF APPRENTICESHIPS
“She said her proposed grade was Outstanding. I was blown away; I actually wanted to cry. I was so emotionally surprised.”

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The Ofsted Diary: Part Two

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