The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity: Government Response to the Committee’s Sixth Report of Session 2017–19

Appendix 2: Ofsted response

Ofsted provided written and oral evidence to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. We welcome the committee’s work in this important area.

The published report, ‘The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity’, raises many pertinent issues. It includes a number of conclusions and recommendations which are relevant to, or have implications for, Ofsted. Our response to these is below.

We recommend that all new apprenticeship training providers should receive at least a monitoring visit from Ofsted within a year of being approved to deliver training by the ESFA. (paragraph 16)

Ofsted and the DfE recently agreed that all new apprenticeship training providers will receive a monitoring visit within 24 months of first being funded to undertake training. Around 600 new providers were funded during 2017–18, and we consider that to be a manageable number to visit within 24 months. However, given the need to recruit and train additional inspectors, it is not possible to carry out a monitoring visit to all new providers within a year. We expect that most new providers will actually receive a monitoring visit well within the first 24 months of starting operations. We use available risk information to inform the timing of our monitoring visits—so those where there are known risks are visited early.

As is set out in legislation, Ofsted can only inspect providers once they are receiving funding. We cannot inspect a new provider who is approved to deliver training until they receive funding. There are providers on the register who may not receive funding for some time, if ever.

We recommend that Ofsted conducts a review of subcontracted provision across the country and produces a survey report setting out its findings, drastically increases the number of monitoring visits of subcontracted provision it undertakes, and inspects the largest subcontractors separately so that they receive a rating based on all the training they offer, regardless of lead provider. (Paragraph 49)

We know that some would like us to inspect subcontractors directly. However, this would not be an effective form of inspection. The provider that is directly funded by the ESFA is responsible and accountable for ensuring the quality of all their funded provision, including any that is subcontracted. The subcontractor is only accountable through the directly-funded provider. This is why we inspect the directly-funded providers.

The ESFA has no contractual relationship with subcontractors, only with the directly-funded provider. They can therefore only take enforcement action against poor provision from a subcontractor through the directly-funded provider. That means the ESFA could not take action on the basis of an Ofsted judgement about a subcontractor. For this reason also, inspecting subcontractors directly would not be effective.

That said, Ofsted has reviewed how it can best direct its limited resources to try to make sure all subcontracted provision is good quality. Since February 2018, Ofsted has increased its focus on the quality and management of subcontracted provision as part of our scheduled inspections of further education and skills providers. We have increased the amount of inspector resource on full and short inspections to allow for this more in-depth scrutiny.

Inspectors make a judgement on the quality and management of subcontracting in each inspection report. As part of this judgement, we name especially poor or especially good subcontractors.

While we have identified some poor practice, we have found there is also a lot of good quality subcontracted provision. It is also clear that, between 2016 and 2018, the amount of subcontracted provision has reduced considerably. In this time, many providers have changed their approach to subcontracting, while some have removed it altogether.

Since spring 2018, Ofsted has risk-assessed subcontracted provision, which helps us to choose potentially poor provision to visit during our inspections of directly-funded providers.

We consider that the measures listed above are a proportionate, risk-based and targeted approach to inspecting the quality of subcontracted provision and that this is the most efficient approach using our limited inspection resources.

As we agreed with the DfE, we have also carried out separate monitoring visits to look at subcontracted provision. We initially conducted two of these visits at colleges where we had cause for concern. However, we found this to be of limited use. Both colleges were reducing or changing their subcontracting arrangements. We decided not to carry out more of these visits because the subcontracting market is shrinking rapidly. However, we do retain the ability to conduct these monitoring visits if we feel it is necessary, or if we are provided with information that causes us concern.

As we undertake our next annual risk assessment in spring 2019, we will look again at the quality of subcontracted provision across all providers. This will help to inform our selection of directly-funded providers for inspection. The increased focus on subcontracted provision will continue on inspections. As part of that exercise we will consider whether any further individual subcontracting monitoring visit will be needed.

Too many students are still not receiving independent and impartial careers advice and guidance about the routes open to them, including apprenticeships. We recommend that the Government, with Ofsted’s support, properly enforces the Baker clause. In its response to this report it should set out how it plans to do this, and what penalties will be imposed on schools that flout their obligations (Paragraph 91)

Enforcement of the Baker clause is a matter for the DfE and not Ofsted. Ofsted’s role extends to inspecting and reporting. We will continue to inspect and report on whether schools are implementing the Baker clause as a part of school inspections.

Published: 20 December 2018