• Dave Foord
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It is possible to be outstanding in an Ofsted inspection

I am really pleased that in the last few weeks, Walsall College have become the first FE college to get an overall grade of ‘Outstanding’ in a Ofsted inspection following the new inspection framework. I am pleased because this has raised the bar for other organisations to aim for, and proves that it is possible to achieve this magically (and at times mythical) level.

Over the last few years as I have worked with different organisations, it becomes quite clear that Ofsted is quite simply the single most important feature of an FE college, followed secondly by financial stability and thirdly by issues realting to the quality of teaching and learning. Personally I would prefer it if the 1st and 3rd items were to swap positions, but this is the reality that we live in. One thing that I have found interested is the different ways that senior management talk about Ofsted.

  • Some colleges that I have worked with, have quite clearly believed that getting an overall grade 1 (Outstanding) was in fact impossible, as if it was some kind of El Dorado that you could spend all life searching but never find, and as such they have accepted and aimed for an overall grade 2 (even if they talk publicly about aiming for grade 1). This strategy although not one that I personally like, did work when an overall grade 2 was the highest that had been achieved by anyone else.
  • The other strategy that I frequently come across (which I like even less) is the one where senior managers insist that all areas of the college have to work towards a grade 1, but without putting in any steps, strategy, guidance or leadership in how to get there, or without being able to tell people what grade 1 would actually look like, if they were to get there.

Personally I am driven by a desire to achieve quality, so I always aim high, so for me aiming for anything less than a grade 1 doesn’t interest me, however I recognise that to get there requires strong leadership, a coherent strategy, and most importantly communication up and down the hierarchy of the organisation so that all know what is expected and aimed for and also how will they know when they get there.

Now that Walsall College have achieved this, provides 2 advantages to everyone else:

  1. We now know that grade 1 is possible, so aiming for and being content with a grade 2 is no longer a feasible long term objective.
  2. We can look at what Walsall College have done (and other colleges that I anticipate will follow suit in the coming months) to get to this level, and use this to help shape the strategies and practices that are required.

If I use a sporting analogy, Back in the early 1950s a lot of people thought that it wasn’t physically possible for a human to run a 4 minute mile, until Roger Banister in 1954 famously achieved the feat. Once he had proved that it was possible to break this ‘speed barrier’ many people over the next few years achieved the same and bettered Roger’s time considerably. I am hoping that now that Walsall College have broken this ‘Ofsted Barrier’ that other colleges will follow suit accordingly.

Post edit on 10th April 2013

…and within a week of me writing this post, predicting that there will be other colleges following suit, Swindon College achieve the same feat. http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/provider/files/2203819/urn/130849.pdf