An operational note for Her Majesty’s Inspectors carrying out interim visits and new provider monitoring visits to further education and skills providers from 28 September 2020.
This operational note covers September to December 2020. View guidance about our inspection activity from January 2021.
On 17 March 2020, all routine inspections were suspended due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Since this date, leaders and staff across the sector have worked hard to support learners, employers and the communities they serve. We know that this work continues as staff and learners return from summer breaks. As part of our phased return to routine inspections, we will carry out ‘interim visits’ and monitoring visits to further education and skills providers from 28 September 2020.
Routine inspections will remain suspended during this initial period while providers resume normal activity following the extended break in on-site education and training. We intend to return to routine inspection in January 2021 but will keep the exact timing under review.
This operational note contains information about the processes before, during and after an interim visit and describes the main activities that inspectors will carry out during these visits. It also covers monitoring visits that will take place in this interim period.
This guidance is applicable from 28 September 2020.
The legal context
We will carry out interim visits and monitoring visits in this period under Part 8 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
Interim visits will not:
- result in a graded or progress judgement
- change a provider’s current Ofsted inspection grades
- use the education inspection framework
- judge providers on their response to COVID-19 during the spring and summer terms 2020
- require any pre-written planning, self-evaluation or other documentation for the visit
- require teachers/trainers to prepare any lesson/session plans or examples of assessment, or to put up any displays for the visit
- use lesson/session visits as a method of collecting evidence
- involve a general review of a provider’s policies
The purpose of interim visits
Interim visits are to help learners, parents, employers and government understand how providers are meeting the needs of students and apprentices in this period, including learners with high needs and those with special educational needs and disabilities.
We will publish the outcomes of our visits, after discussions with leaders, in a brief report to share what steps are being taken to enable learners to resume a full programme of education or training. We will also use what we learn from the interim visits to report on the wider picture across England.
Significant concerns identified on an interim visit could trigger an early inspection or a monitoring visit, as appropriate.
How we will select providers for interim visits
We may carry out interim visits to any of the further education and skills providers that we inspect under the Education and Inspections Act 2006, as set out in our inspection handbook. However, we will not visit all further education and skills providers.
We will prioritise the following:
- providers with an inadequate or requires improvement inspection grade for overall effectiveness
- providers that we have identified risks and concerns about, in accordance with the indicators set out in our inspection handbook
- a sample of good and outstanding providers and newly merged colleges
Length of interim visits and number of inspectors
Each visit will normally last 2 working days and involve 2 Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI). In a small number of very large and dispersed colleges and providers, there may be 3 or more inspectors.
Before the interim visit
Notifying the provider of a visit
We will normally notify a provider of an interim visit up to 2 working days before the on-site stage of the visit. We may notify up to 4 working days before the on-site visit if the college or provider is very large and has several sites, in order to make the planning stage more manageable for both the provider and inspectors.
We will normally notify the provider in the morning of the notification day with an email including the notification letter. Following this initial notification, the lead HMI will call the principal/CEO. During the call, the principal/CEO and lead HMI will discuss the context of the provider and agree a programme of meetings to discuss the 3 visit themes.
Each provider will be invited to nominate a senior member of staff to act as the provider’s main link with the HMI carrying out the visit.
Requests for deferral
A provider may request a deferral of an interim visit. We will decide whether a deferral should be granted in accordance with our deferral policy.
The lead inspector will liaise with the provider to ensure that, wherever possible, the visit can go ahead. We are working closely with the DfE to ensure that our visits reflect current government guidelines. Inspectors will take all reasonable steps to work within the provider’s COVID-19 systems and processes, commensurate with the government’s guidelines.
Planning the interim visit
The lead inspector will discuss with the provider the inspectors’ visit schedule and what activities inspectors may need to carry out by remote means, such as telephone and video conferencing. The lead HMI will draw up a short team-briefing letter and share this with the nominee.
Information to be available to inspectors at the start of the interim visit
Leaders do not need to prepare anything for the visit, beyond what is part of normal business for the provider. Inspectors will normally ask for information about the programmes and courses that the provider is running and the overall numbers of learners in provision types. They will also ask for the details of any employers and subcontractors with whom the provider works. Inspectors will not require performance data or self-assessment and quality improvement plans.
During the interim visit
Methodology of visits and evidence collection
During an interim visit, HMI will explore the following 3 themes:
- What actions are leaders taking to ensure that they provide an appropriate curriculum that responds to the reasonable needs of learners and stakeholders and adapts to changed circumstances?
- What steps are leaders, managers and staff taking to ensure that the approaches used for building knowledge and skills are appropriate to meet the reasonable needs of learners?
- How are leaders ensuring that learners are safe and well informed about potential risks, including from online sources?
On the first day of the visit, inspectors will normally start by meeting the leaders and managers to discuss with them the steps that they are taking, as set out in the 3 themes. We will try to work on site at the provider’s premises wherever possible, but it may be necessary to carry out some meetings, discussions or aspects of the visit remotely.
Conversations with senior leaders will be the main source of evidence. Inspectors will want to discuss the impact of COVID-19 and identify any barriers that the provider is facing in managing the return to full education and training for all learners.
On the second day of the visit, inspectors will normally continue their discussions and meetings with managers, staff, stakeholders and learners. Inspectors will talk to staff and learners if it is safe and appropriate to do so. They may also speak to subcontractors, employers and other stakeholders, if appropriate. The lead inspector will keep the nominee informed about which staff, employers and learners the inspectors need to speak to.
Inspectors will not carry out ‘deep dives’ or directly observe teaching or training. They may look at the provider’s records, especially on safeguarding.
Other guidance that inspectors will consider
When assessing what actions and steps the provider is taking within the scope of the 3 themes, inspectors will consider the expectations set out in guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) on providers’ programmes and curriculum from September 2020. This guidance anticipates that providers will provide a full programme of study and training for their learners from the start of autumn term, including for learners with high needs and those with special educational needs and disabilities. Delivery of the curriculum may involve elements of remote and online education. Inspectors will expect to see how this has been planned into appropriate curriculum delivery as a whole.
Inspectors will consider how the provider is following the DfE’s guidance on other relevant areas, such as safeguarding (including online safety) (safeguarding does not include public health measures and these will not be reviewed as part of these visits), support for vulnerable young people and provision for learners with high needs and special educational needs and disabilities.
Inspectors will also take into account the provider’s use of other initiatives and measures that DfE and other government departments have put in place to help providers return to delivering a full programme of education and training.
Feedback to leaders
At the end of the visit, the lead HMI will provide final feedback to the nominee, principal/CEO and any senior leaders that the provider elects to attend. Relevant officers from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), the DfE and, where appropriate, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and appropriate mayoral and combined authorities (MCAs) may also join the feedback meeting.
The findings are provisional and may be subject to change through quality assurance, and will be generally reflected in the report. We may share them with the Further Education Commissioner, ESFA, DfE, Ofqual, Office for Students (OfS), GLA, MCAs or other relevant regulators/inspectorates before we publish the report.
We may carry out further interim visits or monitoring visits or an early full inspection if we have significant (including safeguarding) concerns.
After the interim visit
Report to the provider
Within 18 working days of the end of the visit, we will write to the provider, setting out in a draft report what inspectors found. This will have been quality assured. We may share the draft report or findings with other public bodies.
The provider will have 5 working days to comment on the draft report, inspection process and findings. We will consider all comments and we will respond to the comments when we share the final report with the provider within a maximum of 30 working days of the end of the visit, although it may be sooner.
If the provider wishes to submit a formal complaint, it will have until the end of the fifth working day after receiving the final report to do so.
We will normally publish the report on our reports website within 38 working days of the end of the visit. We may delay the publication of the report if a complaint is being investigated.
Following the visit, we will ask providers for feedback about the process through a survey. We provide details about how providers can share their views when we send the final report.
We will monitor the quality of the visits through a range of formal processes. We may visit some providers or remotely monitor evidence to quality assure the visit. We will quality assure evidence bases and reports.
The evidence base
The evidence base for the visit will be retained in line with Ofsted’s retention and disposal policy. This is normally for 6 years from when the report is published. We may decide that retaining it for longer is warranted for research purposes.
Conduct and complaints
Inspectors must uphold the highest professional standards in their work and treat everyone they encounter during visits fairly and with respect and sensitivity.
We will apply our policy on incomplete inspections where appropriate.
New provider monitoring visits
We will normally carry out an additional new provider monitoring visit (NPMV) to new providers that:
- were judged to be making insufficient progress against one or more themes at their previous NPMV
- would have been due their full inspection up to or during the interim phase (that is, within 6 to 12 months of the publication of their first NPMV report) but have not received it because of the suspension of routine inspections
Both of the above factors must apply.
We will carry out these NPMVs in place of a full inspection during the interim phase. This is so that we can re-assess new providers previously judged to be making insufficient progress in a timely and proportionate way, which is in the interests of learners. The ESFA will take into account the outcome of these additional NPMVs when making intervention decisions (such as about apprenticeships starts and registration).
Additional NPMVs will be carried out in the same way as the first new provider monitoring visit made to a new provider and in accordance with the inspection handbook, unless otherwise indicated. Inspectors will make the usual progress judgements for monitoring visits (insufficient/reasonable/significant) against the usual 3 themes (leadership and management, quality of training, and education and safeguarding).
We will give up to 2 working days’ notice of an NPMV and providers may request a deferral. It may be necessary to carry out some meetings, discussions or aspects of the visit remotely.
NPMVs will result in a brief published report. However, the publication, quality assurance and complaints process will be the same as for interim visits.
If we judge a provider to be making reasonable or significant progress against the 3 themes following its additional NPMV, it will then normally receive a full inspection within 24 months of the publication of that report.
Other monitoring visits
If we have significant cause for concern, such as about safeguarding, we may carry out a monitoring visit to any provider at any reasonable time. These monitoring visits will normally result in a progress judgement against each theme covered, and a brief published report, as set out in the handbook. We may only cover the safeguarding theme, if appropriate. Concerns arising from monitoring visits may lead to an early full inspection.
We may also carry out a safeguarding follow-up monitoring visit if we have judged a new provider to be making insufficient progress for the safeguarding theme at its previous NPMV and it would have been due a follow-up safeguarding visit up to or during the interim phase. This would only occur when the new provider would not be due its full inspection up to and during the interim phase (if it is due, then it will receive a full NPMV). The safeguarding follow-up monitoring visit will only cover the safeguarding theme.
During a visit, inspectors may collect information about staff and learners by talking to them and by looking at documents and other recorded information. Inspectors may also meet with employers, where appropriate. We will use this information to prepare a brief report and as set out in our further education and skills privacy notice.