MOVING WITH THE TIMES - THE NEW CIF WILL CREATE A SECTOR SHIFT
As if the Area Reviews and ongoing funding cuts were not enough for the FE community to deal with this year, there is the matter of changes to Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework – or CIF, as it is known – which also came into effect in September 2015.
The new CIF represents a further step change in Ofsted’s attempt to align the way it inspects across all its remits. Ofsted has also recently completed the task of employing all inspectors directly, in an attempt to improve the quality and consistency of its inspection work. The outcomes of these changes will be different across the sector, but the combined effect will undoubtedly produce a shift as providers change their performance management and quality improvement arrangements in line with the new framework.
Crucial to understanding how individual providers will fare is the establishment of a self assessment process and, ideally, this will have begun with robust briefings for senior teams about the meaning of the new CIF for their organisations. For example, a new judgment has been introduced regarding the ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’ of learners. This will not be a ‘soft’ grade but will be rigorously evaluated by inspectors, with providers needing to generate extensive and compelling evidence in order to secure good grades.
Inspectors will also be evaluating the range and effectiveness of careers guidance and opportunities for work experience offered, as well as the level of support given to help learners develop behaviours needed for future learning and employment. Providers will need a good understanding of how these will be assessed across the range of FE organisations.
In addition Ofsted is changing the way it inspects those FE providers that are doing well, with all providers currently rated as ‘good’ to receive shorter, but more frequent inspections. Other changes include no longer grading observed learning sessions to bring FE inspections in line with those of schools. This may be welcomed by much of the sector, but, nevertheless, will require a settling in period and new ways of thinking. A decision that has also been well regarded has been to bring all of the training and performance management of inspectors in-house, to maintain consistency and high quality of inspection.
These changes have been put in place to ensure that Ofsted stays relevant in today’s - and tomorrow’s - challenging environment. There is mention in the new CIF, for instance, of how colleges are coping and dealing with radicalisation of students and other issues like cyber bullying.
Overall, while the advice for FE is actually not to ‘over-respond’, there is definitely a place for increased insight and analysis aimed at helping senior leadership teams develop expertise in how to respond to the new inspections.
The updated CIF is not happening in a vacuum, but is being introduced at a time when strategic planning for the present as well as for the future is needed to ensure that providers are able to respond to the huge challenges they face. The key is being ready to realise the opportunities this also presents.