The Common Inspection Framework for FE 2015: A Sense of Disquiet?

A CIF that doesn’t speak to the FE sector

Does anyone else in FE have a sense of disquiet at the publication of the new Common Inspection Framework? As someone who has spent their whole career in FE, there is a sense of disconnect when I read it. It reads as if we are a simple extension of the secondary sector, instead of a complex, rich learning context for young people AND adults.To me this framework narrows our focus and is underpinned by the clear political message that we are becoming predominantly a sausage factory to service the world of work. Our role seems to be to produce trainees and apprentices to fuel economic growth. As you read the handbook, you feel that you could substitute pupil for learner and it would still make sense, as if the process of making one cross-sector Ofsted framework has highlighted the FE context being reconfigured as mainly a training provider. For me, a lot is lost by this narrowing of focus.

One of our roles in FE IS to support the development of skills and knowledge that will prepare people for life, work and study, but we offer more than this. We have always done more than this in FE, provided a range of adult provision, created opportunities that no other service offers, engaged communities in unique ways.The current destructive trend of cost-cutting in our budgets is restricting our offer and narrowing our focus. Writers of great eloquence have recently commented on just this fact and what we lose as a society without that breadth and richness. Education is about more than just preparing people for work. It is troubling to see the Ofsted framework reinforcing this narrow politicised definition of the role of FE.

For background on the cost-cutting trend in FE and its implications, click here:

https://www.tes.co.uk/news/further-education/breaking-news/alison-wolf-funding-cuts-could-make-fe-vanish-history

https://www.aoc.co.uk/blog/the-importance-adult-education

https://www.aoc.co.uk/blog/if-the-only-thing-offer-apprenticeship-then-25-million-adults-miss-out

Personal development, behaviour and welfare: another hoop to jump through?

I now work across the FE sector as a consultant, trainer and coach, and have seen a great deal of valuable and creative work going on around personal development, life and work skills and behaviour management. This is happening in many tutorial and review processes and is threaded through curriculum offers and college procedures. In the 2012 framework, there was room to evaluate that within a wider and deeper look at teaching and learning.

In this new framework for 2015, I am concerned the balance has tipped and this has become yet another wide category to assess us against or is that another big stick …? T, L, A, leadership and management and outcomes for learners remain, but there is now another big hoop to jump through called Personal development, behaviour and welfare. Here is the CIF summary, to highlight just how many aspects there are to consider:

In making this judgement inspectors will consider, where relevant and appropriate:

the extent to which learners take pride in their work, become self-confident and self-assured, and know that they have the potential to be a successful learner on their current and future learning programmes, including at work

the proportion of learners who benefit from purposeful work-related learning, including external work experience where appropriate to their learning programmes and/or their future career plans, and how well they contribute to their workplace, including on work experience, as a valued member of the workforce

how well learners develop the personal, social and employability skills, including English, mathematics and ICT skills, required to achieve their core learning aims and appreciate the importance of these skills in the context of their progression and career aims

the extent to which learners achieve the specific units of their main vocational qualifications and relevant additional qualifications that enhance their learning and are likely to increase their future employability

the extent to which learners’ standards of work are appropriate to their level of study and/or requirements of the relevant industries so that they can work effectively to realistically challenging academic or commercial deadlines

learners’ use of the information they receive on the full range of relevant career pathways from the provider and other partners, including employers, to help them develop challenging and realistic plans for their future careers

how well learners know how to protect themselves from the risks associated with radicalisation, extremism, forms of abuse, grooming and bullying, including through the use of the internet, and how well they understand the risks posed by adults or young people who use the internet to bully, groom or abuse other people, especially children, young people and vulnerable adults

how well learners know how to keep themselves fit and healthy, both physically and emotionally

the extent to which learners feel and are safe and have a good understanding of how they can raise concerns if they do not feel safe; the confidence that any concerns they may have are taken seriously and followed through appropriately

learners’ understanding of their rights and responsibilities as a learner and, where relevant, as an employee, as citizens and consumers in the community; and how well they work cooperatively with others in all settings and promote good and productive working relationships with their peers, employees and employers

the extent to which learning programmes, including enrichment activities, allow all learners to explore personal, social and ethical issues and take part in life in wider society and in Britain

how well learners attend learning sessions and/or work regularly and punctually, including through participation in any distance learning activities, such as online learning and the use of virtual learning environments

whether learners comply with any guidelines for behaviour and conduct stipulated by providers or employers and manage their own feelings and behaviour at work and in learning sessions

The focus, language and tone of this section sits more comfortably with our work with 14-19 year olds than it does with many of our adult groups, so it will be interesting to see how managers and teachers respond to this on the ground. Some colleagues have told me that this is already their direction of travel and it doesn’t trouble them; others feel a great disconnect with the messages here about what we should be covering in our FE context.

How can FE respond?

My hope is that practitioners will use the common sense that I applaud in our sector, in their response to this new strand of inspection. They will need to avoid patronising learners or nannying them. Another column on schemes of work would be a column too far, I think. How many more themes can we make explicit for inspectors? It just feels like an endless load, every year more pressure and demand to track and evidence so many things that are enshrined in the way we work with learners. I think we need to ensure that our focus on these themes is driven by our learners’ context and needs, to avoid wrenching in inappropriate content that is simply there because it is the current Ofsted fashion.

One useful step that teams could take would be to spend some time during the early stages of term responding to these questions:

1. On punctuality and attendance
How do we define expectations around behaviour for and with our learners?
How can we motivate learners to arrive on time?
How effectively do we manage challenging behaviour? What works?
What is the team/college procedure for managing poor punctuality or attendance? How can we create greater consistency and responsiveness in these procedures?

2. On values, diversity, learning difficulties
Where are there naturally occurring opportunities to highlight cultural, social, moral issues in our curriculum and in wider college activities?
How are we already focusing on equality and diversity through classroom practices and materials?
What appropriate adjustments are we making for learners with difficulties and disabilities and how could we enhance our knowledge/expertise?

3. On employability, ICT, English and maths skills
Where do these skills emerge from our units/assignments/assessments and how can we make them explicit for learners?
Are there any skills that we need to highlight in more depth, to enhance learner achievement?
How can we join up main course teaching, tutorials, additional learning support, study skills support and online resources to maximise the learners’ skills development?
What is our working definition of relevant ICT skills in each curriculum area?

A certain vagueness

If you read the 2012 framework and then the 2015 version, you might be struck by a looseness, a vagueness in how things are defined in the new CIF. In 2012, the statements around how inspectors would form a judgment for example, included recognisable notions from current pedagogy at the time. As classroom practitioners, we recognised the language of assessment and feedback, stretch and challenge, use of targets etc. The level of detail in the CIF included aspects of teachers’ craft and practice, as well as looking at the impact on learners and learning.

For me, the new CIF is firmly focused on the impact on learners and the way we can evidence and make progress explicit to learners and to inspectors. The craft of teaching is less highlighted here. Interesting that Ofsted have moved in this direction at the point when the sector is awash with researchers and practitioners discussing to what extent learning is ever visible and the complexities of separating doing from learning. See here for further debate on this topic:

http://www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/john-hattie-think-education/

https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/spacing-and-interleaving/
Now there may be two ways to see this:

1. Hooray! This should free us up from feeling the need to showcase the latest fads…..Ofsted are not prescribing styles and methods as per this quote from the handbook:

Ofsted has no preferred teaching style. Inspectors judge the quality of teaching by its impact on learning. Providers are not expected to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to evaluate teaching or individual lessons, or to undertake a specified amount of lesson observations. Teaching staff should plan their lessons as usual. Ofsted does not specify how lesson plans should be set out or the amount of detail they should contain. Inspectors will not grade observations of learning sessions or assessments.

2. Worried! The looseness of definition can open us up to the full range of personal interpretations and preferences of individual inspectors. There is the sense of not being exactly sure where the goal posts are in inspection. Interesting, the expectations around English and maths are really very vague indeed. To me, the ICT thread within inspection is not clearly outlined either:

Staff promote, where appropriate, English, mathematics, ICT and employability skills exceptionally well and ensure that learners are well-equipped with the necessary skills to progress to their next steps.

As the autumn term rolls on, we will see comments emerging from colleges inspected under the new framework and get more of a sense of what this actually means in practice. The framework itself may be tweaked and tightened too, I imagine. For me, the most important thing is for practitioners to maintain their focus on context and learners as they assimilate this new inspection framework. With so much pressure on colleges to survive and with the Ofsted grading carrying such weight and consequence, this is a challenging enterprise requiring strength, persistence and clear sightedness. These are characteristics that I see in evidence all over our sector, but I think this year we will need them more than ever before.

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2 Responses to The Common Inspection Framework for FE 2015: A Sense of Disquiet?

  1. Lynn says:

    Hi
    I agree with many statements posed but not all. In particular I agree with the statements that common sense should prevail for teachers and their institutional management in meeting the expected outcomes for TLA. I.e the new heading on Personal development, behaviour and welfare. This might well end up as another hoop to jump through and might be more aligned to the 14-19, rather adult learners. However, good and better colleges should not have any problems demonstrating evidence for this, particularly aspects related to employability, progression etc.

    However, I do disagree with the statements about the alignment with the school sector and the notion that FE is seen as an extension of the secondary sector. Having alalysed and compared both the “FE and Skills framework” with the “Education, skills and Early years”, while the process and methodology is the same (and for good reason) the criteria in which specifics such as judgements on Teaching, Learning and Assessment has been contextualised well to each sector. Having recently (lSt week) shared the characteristics that OFSTED include in their judgements of Outstanding TLA in both the FE and Secondary sectors, not a single teacher disagreed with the stated characteristics. More so, they felt they could strive to achieve them in their professional practice.

    So, whilst some might feel the disquiet, there could also be some optimism. I note the expectations for teachers to be reflective practitioners and for a culture within providers for this to take place. I notice high expectations and aspirations for all learners – never a bad thing. I note the increased expectation for curious and interested learners and trust that pedagogical practices will allow this to flow freely within lessons. Maybe I am ever the optimist, but this framework could allow professionalism to show through and for teachers no to feel they have to teach to a prescribed formula to tick the OFSTED box. Of course all this very much depends on the quality of OFSTED inspectors and their interpretation of their own framework!

  2. AJ says:

    Hi, having just been through an Ofsted inspection in an FE college under the new CIF I have to say it was unlike any other inspection I have lived through. There are no longer any subject specialists, instead there are inspectors for Level 1/2/3 learners with a focus on complete Study Programmes rather than individual courses. Short-term targets were looked at and how the learner progresses within the lesson. There were less full observations than in previous inspections but many more walk-throughs with inspectors re-visiting lessons at different times.

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