2022 was a transformational year for Further Education in the UK. The “Skills Bill” became law officially in April 2022, emphasising the importance of skills in levelling up opportunities and strengthening local economies. The goal is simple: to provide students with the skills they need to get well-paid jobs and close skills gaps in specific industries, thus improving local economies.
Following this, the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) announced its new 5-year strategy (covering 2022 to 2027), which builds on its previous strategy but also takes into account the impacts of the pandemic and the reshaping of the economy.
This isn’t groundbreaking news, considering that the Department for Education had already set aside £20.9 million to develop local skills improvement plans in 38 areas, hoping that “most” of the country will be covered by a Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) by summer 2023. However, Ofsted’s inspections have changed quite significantly.
Lightcast works with Further Education providers across the UK, enabling them to get an in-depth understanding of their local labour market and review their portfolio accordingly. Lightcast data allows providers to analyse skills demand in their region, map this to their current courses, enabling them to reshape their offering to ensure that they are better meeting local employer needs.
What Ofsted’s new strategy means for your college
Ofsted’s new strategy is built on eight strategic priorities, including “Keeping pace with sector changes” and “Inspections that raise standards”. Inspections are due for all UK colleges in the next four years. They are slightly different than what Further Education providers were used to, with a clear focus on assessing how well colleges are meeting the skills needs of the economy.
Updates to the inspection include the designation of two inspection nominees, “skills nominees”, which are focused solely on analysing whether colleges are meeting skills needs, and a new framework for evaluating these results. Under the new inspection plan, there are three judgements available for measuring skills: limited, reasonable, and strong. As it stands, only Further Education colleges are being judged on meeting skills needs, though other organisations may be included at a later date.
It’s also worth noting (or remembering) that for a college to achieve at least a “Good” rating for “quality of education”, inspectors must see evidence that leaders provide a curriculum that is “appropriately relevant to local and regional employment and training priorities”. So, how do you get the insights and evidence to demonstrate that you meet Ofsted’s enhanced inspection requirements?
The Capital City College Group case study
Capital City College Group (CCCG) is London’s largest Further Education group and the third largest in the UK. The College underwent its full Ofsted inspection in December 2022, receiving “Good” in all its key judgments and provision types. Under the new enhanced framework, the College’s contribution to meeting skills needs was acknowledged to be “Strong”, the highest rating possible. Kurt Hintz, Executive Principal at CCCG shared his experience throughout the inspection process in our recent webinar, “Using labour market data to support Ofsted's 'skills measure'”.
Pre-planning for the Ofsted inspection
A key takeaway of the webinar, which can serve as guidance for colleges that are yet to undergo the inspection, is the importance of pre-planning. Ofsted provides a one-week notice before the inspection, which can be used to set up meetings with the relevant people and to organise information. By speaking to people who did the pilot inspections, CCCG knew exactly who to invite to meetings. Only one new addition to the inspection surprised the College: they were asked to nominate two employers who could be in contact and speak very specifically about their course.
Generally, however, preparations and conversations are key. This is especially true for large college groups, such as CCCG, with 35 thousand students across 10 sites in London. A detailed and comprehensive position statement is critical and can avoid a lot of time-wasting during meetings. As Kurt mentioned when discussing his first meeting with the skills inspector, “Everything I covered in that meeting was in fact in that position statement. The only thing I really did was direct the inspector to certain parts of the document.”
This document should be as detailed as possible, with specific examples of how the college is meeting skills needs across all courses. Plus, it should clearly define the college’s mission and strategies to continuously adapt to the local market and improve its curriculum. Having a comprehensive document helps with the accountability statement too, so it’s a clear win-win.
The heavy work and the real preparation are ongoing. It consists of speaking to employers all the time and aligning the college’s curriculum with their skills needs, continuously engaging with communities and stakeholders to measure the college’s impacts and improve upon them.
Using Lightcast to meet Ofsted’s new requirements
But speaking with employers isn’t enough. CCCG relies on data sources like Lightcast to really understand their local labour market needs. Lightcast provides CCCG with in-depth, regional Job Postings and Skills data, which is used not only to review the curriculum but to demonstrate the College’s impact and results.
The bar is high for reaching a “Strong” rating, and inspectors run through every single detail. Therefore, having a powerful data source to ensure that the skills you are teaching meet the needs of your local employers is crucial. This granular data is what Kurt considers “the golden thread,” which helps with the ongoing curriculum review and implementation, making Ofsted’s inspection a much smoother process.