Amanda Spielman – 2018 Speech to Annual Apprenticeships Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of OFSTED, to the Annual Apprenticeships Conference on 22 March 2018.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.


This is a very important conference, at a critical time for the development of apprenticeship provision. It is gratifying to see apprenticeships on the news agenda regularly: whether as mentions in Prime Minister’s speeches or the subject of thoughtful newspaper columns from journalists you wouldn’t normally expect to care. Apprenticeships are, quite rightly, recognised as a vital component of our education and skills sector. Less gratifying, perhaps, is that too much of this recognition is about the system, not yet, working as it should.

That’s why I am so pleased to be here today. I see it as essential that providers, policy makers and employers can have open and frank discussions about what works and what needs to be improved.

It is almost a year now since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy–one of the most significant changes to apprenticeship funding that we have ever seen. Alongside the slow but inexorable move from apprenticeship frameworks to apprenticeship standards, providers and employers are working to secure the training and support that businesses need to develop a well-trained and productive workforce.

And at Ofsted, we carry on supporting the reform programme. Indeed we’re putting our money where our mouth is, with our own award-winning band of 29 business administration apprentices.


We know that it has been a challenging year for providers. The levy has required a different relationship with employers. There have been challenges in applying for, and receiving, non-levy allocations. There have also been problems getting on the Register of apprenticeship training providers. And, in too many instances, in finding a replacement standard for a framework–particularly at levels two and three.

I suspect that the fall in apprenticeship starts is due to a combination of these factors. Nevertheless, any barriers that prevent employers taking on an apprentice, or standing in the way of good providers delivering high quality training, must concern us all.

The first quarter of 2017 to 2018 saw almost 50,000 fewer starts than the same quarter in 2016 to 2017. There is no denying, that the low number of starts continues to be a concern, which is why I was heartened to see Anne Milton’s recent confidence that numbers will pick up in the new academic year. We all have to hope that this is true.

It is not just about overall volumes though. We are also experiencing some unintended consequences from the emerging trend towards higher-level apprenticeships. Of course, I understand, indeed applaud, more apprenticeships at higher levels, especially when there is clear progression in an occupation, from level 2 through to degree level. However, around 40% of the standards approved or in-development are at higher and degree levels, while only 7% of apprentices work at these levels.

This shift may be good for the economy in the long run, but the reduced number of apprenticeships at levels two and three is another destabilising factor in the system. To put it more brutally, there is a risk that young people, fresh from school, get squeezed out of apprenticeship routes because employers prioritise higher level programmes. This makes it more difficult for young people looking for entry-level employment straight from GCSEs.

In this context, I am pleased to see that the Institute for Apprenticeships is upping the rate at which it develops and approves apprenticeship standards. Up till now, this process really has been too slow. I am also pleased that there is now more flexibility to include qualifications within apprenticeship standards. I see these positive developments as a sign that the institute is listening to the concerns expressed by employers and training providers. However, I would still like to see a greater focus on achieving a set of standards that really reflect the balance of training and development needs of the economy.

Ofsted’s role

With all the change, and uncertainty in the system, I am sure you want reassurance about Ofsted’s agility and ability to adapt inspection to fit the new reality.

We know the challenges you face. We are working hard with you to make sure that inspection takes account of the changing landscape. But, let me be absolutely clear, we will not be excusing poor performance. Regardless of the changes that we are all dealing with: apprentices deserve high quality training at, and away from, work.

Pilot inspection findings

We have already carried out a number of pilot inspections to make sure that we are looking at the right things in this new environment. And we found a need for inspectors to focus on the bottom line, not the money, but what knowledge, skills and behaviours apprentices actually develop and acquire.

Now I hope many of you will know that one of my big interests as Chief Inspector is looking at the substance of education. By this, I mean the entirety of what is actually learnt, whether at school, college or on an apprenticeship.

As I said at the launch of my first Annual Report, our early research has shown that, all too often, the knowledge that we want young people to acquire is lost in the dash for grades and stickers.

These pilot inspections of apprenticeship providers have revealed that many of the concerns we have uncovered at a school level are also evident in apprenticeships.

We are seeing an over-emphasis on simply ticking the box to show that the next part of the qualification has been achieved. There is not enough focus on the actual skills, knowledge and behaviours learned.

Indeed, most providers in our pilots found it difficult to demonstrate what actual progress their apprentices were really making. As providers, you need to consider how you make sure that apprentices are making progress. This isn’t for inspectors, not for Ofsted, but for apprentices’ and employers’ benefit. It is also to inform the training and development programme that apprentices need to be following to pass end-point assessments.

The findings from our pilot inspections are informing changes to the inspection handbook. We will carry on iterating and adapting these as the systems develop.

Inspections of apprenticeships

More broadly, we are now developing our new education inspection framework for September 2019. How we inspect and report on apprenticeships are important considerations in our thinking and planning for this new framework. What we learn on inspections now, and what we learn from our work with organisations like AELP, the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI, will inform our development. And of course, we will consult on our proposals.

But the changes in the system aren’t just about new frameworks and new ways of inspecting. I know that many of you have concerns about the number of untested providers entering the market and the effect this could have on quality. Well, rest assured, we are not standing idly by and waiting for new providers to fail. We are doing all that we can to make sure that no apprentice’s future opportunity is ruined by poor provision. It is essential that poor quality provision is spotted and tackled quickly, so that it doesn’t damage an individual’s prospects or the overall apprenticeship brand.

We have already begun a series of early monitoring visits to assess the quality of these new providers. Some of you will have heard about our first monitoring visits, which hit the headlines, at least in the trade press, last week. There is no hiding the fact that what we found at Key6 Group was worrying. And I’m very pleased that there has been a prompt reaction by ESFA [Education and Skills Funding Agency].

But, it is important that we don’t over-interpret this one result as a judgement on all new providers coming on stream with the levy. We are doing more monitoring visits of this type. And I very much hope that positive results will significantly outnumber the disappointments.

Besides these monitoring visits to new providers, we have increased our inspection focus on subcontractors, many of whom are providing apprenticeship training. We are doing this in two ways. Firstly, as part of our standard inspections, where providers have a significant proportion of subcontracted provision, we are increasing our focus on this part. This will mean that teams can evaluate and report, in more detail, on the quality of education and training in individual subcontractors.

In addition, we are making monitoring visits to a number of directly-funded providers to look specifically at subcontracted provision. This way, we can make sure that apprentices are getting the best possible training. We expect the first of these to be published in the next couple of weeks.

Our message here is simple. As the direct contract holder, you are responsible for your learners. If you subcontract, for whatever reason, you are still responsible for making sure your apprentice gets high quality training. If you are sitting back and collecting the money, without taking proper responsibility for quality, you are failing your apprentices. We are determined to expose this in the system.

And, just in case, any of you were being kind enough to worry about us, and whether Ofsted has the resources to deliver this increased volume of inspection, please don’t worry: we are being equally robust in our approach to government for funding. Indeed the DfE has already acknowledged that it needs to fund us properly for this work.


With the experience of Learndirect still prominent in all of our minds, I have no doubt that you are all acutely aware of the risks when large sums of money flow into a system.

It is sobering, in that respect, to look at recent inspection outcomes. Between September 2017 and February 2018, we made a judgement on the apprenticeship provision at 55 providers. We found three-fifths of them to be good or outstanding, with 16 requiring improvement. Six were inadequate. This means that 4 in 10 providers did not offer high quality training for apprentices. There is no way of dressing this up – it is not good enough.

But looking at it another way, the good and outstanding providers were generally the larger ones, so 33,000 apprentices were in good or outstanding provision – almost 80% of the overall places. And this is a lot higher than the provision looked at in the previous year. Then, only 60% of apprentices were being trained in providers of the same quality, we have excluded Learndirect from those figures. To be clear, it is not a perfect year-on-year comparison because inspection priorities and scheduling decisions affect which providers are selected for inspection. However, I do believe the figures are cause for optimism about quality in the sector.

So, while we rightly shine a light on concerns in the system, and I do have to talk about where things are going wrong. I also believe it is important to celebrate where things are going well. We see outstanding apprenticeship providers like National Grid and Craven College and Fareham College. There we see leaders and managers who work very closely with local employers to make sure that apprenticeships meet the needs of the local economy. They expect the best of their apprentices who show exemplary skills, getting the qualifications and competencies they need.

And whether it’s TTE Training with 160 engineering apprentices on various pathways, Busy Bees Nurseries and its range of early years apprenticeships or CITB supporting 10,000 apprentices in the construction industry–these very different types of outstanding provider are similar in one thing: the determination to give their apprentices top-notch training and to set them on a path to a successful and fulfilling career.


So, to conclude, we cannot escape the fact that this is a testing time for apprenticeships, a period of significant change that has inevitably brought a level of uncertainty alongside great opportunity.

There is still a way to go before we can confidently declare the new approach a success, but it is possible to see it beginning to take shape.

My inspectors are seeing some excellent provision around the country, but not enough of it and we need to see more. The sector is adapting confidently to change, but we need to make sure that the pace doesn’t slacken.

Ofsted’s overarching goal, as set out in our corporate strategy, is to be a force for improvement in all the sectors we inspect and regulate. This is as relevant for apprenticeship provision as it is for schools or child protection. Through our work, we will provide the evidence of what is working and the early warning of where things are going wrong. For a system in the midst of change, this could not be more vital.

After all, success of this ambitious apprenticeship programme is essential, not only to the needs of our wider economy, but for the young people and adult learners so desperate for the right opportunity to prosper.

I know all of you in this room are working hard to ensure this success. I am delighted to be joining all the winners of the inaugural AAC apprenticeship awards at tonight’s ceremony in recognition of that commitment.

Thank you.

Amanda Spielman – 2017 Speech at Nursery World Summit

Below is the text of the speech made by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of OFSTED, on 8 November 2017.

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me here to speak you today.

It’s great to be part of such a rich programme of speakers and discussions. You certainly pack a lot into a day. Apprenticeships, Brexit, workforce strategies – all before lunch – that’s some work ethic.

When I took on the role of Chief Inspector, I was clear that every part of our work was of equal importance. I made a commitment to myself, and others, that I would engage with every aspect of our broad remit.

In particular, I wanted to get a better understanding of the issues affecting early years. After all, you are responsible for the crucial first stage of a child’s development. I am grateful, therefore, to the nurseries that welcomed me as a visitor during my early months in post and the time the leaders in your field took in getting me up to speed.

So thank you to all of you, particularly members of our National Consultative Forum, for your efforts in educating me. And of course a tribute to Ofsted’s own Gill Jones, our early years supremo, and her team who have helped me immeasurably.

One of the clearest messages I took away from those early discussions was the importance of the honest dialogue, from both sides, that exists between Ofsted and the sector. Through the work of our consultative forum, grassroots initiatives like the ‘Ofsted Big Conversation’ and the myriad of events like these, it is clearly ‘good to talk’. I know that countless issues have been raised and resolved as a result of these efforts, from concerns about complaint-driven inspections to consistency of inspections. Long may the dialogue continue.

And in that spirit of openness, I wanted to share with you a bit of my story and what brought me to the post of Chief Inspector. My early career was spent in business and finance, but after 15 years, and having children, I realised that education was my real passion. So I took the plunge and did a Masters in comparative education, and a year or two later got involved in the Ark academy chain, just as it was starting out. A chain, incidentally, that built in primary education from the very beginning.

The work at Ark was very much focused on turning around tough schools. It was about making sure that children who had been getting a raw deal started to receive a proper education. The education they deserved. The experience of Ark’s primary schools demonstrated first-hand how a solid early education sets young people up for life.

After Ark, I spent five years at Ofqual, steeped in the reform of assessment and qualifications. And then at the start of this year, I joined Ofsted as Chief Inspector.

And it has been an incredibly rewarding year so far.

Ofsted turned 25 this autumn. And although the educational, political and economic landscape is now very different, our mission to raise standards in education and care remains unchanged. Because, despite momentous social and cultural shifts, our work to improve children’s lives is as important today as it was quarter of a century ago.

As you would expect, much has changed in Ofsted since 1992. Today, we are more focused on what works and far more engaged with all of the sectors we inspect.

As part of our continuing evolution, at the end of September we published our new corporate strategy, which will guide every area of our work, including early years, until 2022.

The strategy centres on one fundamental principle: that Ofsted will be ‘a force for improvement through intelligent, responsible and focused inspection and regulation’.

Being intelligent: that means that our work will be evidence-led, and our judgements will be valid and reliable.

Being responsible: that means our findings will be clear and accessible, and we will be fair in our expectations of others.

And being focused: that means our time and resources will be targeted, as far as possible, where they can lead directly to improvement.

And just like you, we will always put children first.

I appreciate that talk of ‘corporate strategies’ and ‘fundamental principles’ might seem a bit removed from your daily concerns. You may well ask: ‘all very nice but what does it mean for me and my nursery business?’

Perhaps I can unpick it a bit for you by relating it to the work we are doing specifically in your area.


So starting with intelligent.

For inspection to be intelligent, it must be led by a professional, highly skilled and well-trained workforce. With our early years inspectors back in house, we are in a better position to ensure the quality of training and support given to our teams. As these teams move into our established regional structures, I am confident that we will see further benefits through the sharing of insight and intelligence with colleagues from schools and social care.

We will also be using inspection evidence to offer perspective and insight to those we inspect. That doesn’t mean ‘how to’ manuals, but it does mean making the most of our bird’s eye view of the totality of children’s experience in education to help lead improvements right from early years to college. We will publish more research on what we learn about what works so that we can help others to improve.


Then being responsible. I am, of course, intensely aware of the impact of Ofsted judgments. We must use our power responsibly. In your industry, perhaps more than any other area, a poor judgement can have significant financial consequences. There can be big impacts on funding and the ability to even continue in business.

Now, as you would expect, I will reiterate that first and foremost our concerns are for the education and welfare of children. We will always report honestly on provision that is not good enough. But our responsibility to you is to make sure that our expectations of you are clear. That they are not constantly changing. And that you have fair recourse when you believe something has gone wrong during an inspection.

That’s why we recently expanded our successful myth-busting campaign into the early years sector. And why we will carry on being open about any future changes we plan to make to inspection. It is also why I have committed to there being no major changes to the common inspection framework until 2019, so that you can have certainty about what is coming and when. When I say ‘major’, I don’t mean to sound weasely, but simply need to acknowledge that sometimes changes are needed to make sure things are clear or because of new legislation.

Our duty to act responsibly also lies behind a major revamp of our online registration and payment systems. I know that our current systems aren’t good enough. I appreciate that time and effort of your staff spent on working through these clunky and sometimes impenetrable systems is time away from children. That simply isn’t good enough. That’s why we are investing in a major overhaul.

The project is only part way through, but I am confident that when complete, your experience will be transformed.

It is only by learning what you need that we can design a service that is right for you. So we are testing and refining the service as we go, with input from the sector at each stage, to make sure that working with Ofsted and completing tasks online is simpler, clearer and faster.


And thirdly, being focused. Like all public sector organisations, Ofsted faces the challenge of doing more with less.

This challenge can be met, in part, through greater efficiency but we also have to be honest and realistic about the choices we face about how we target inspection. We have to ask ourselves how finite resources can be put to best use.

This isn’t just about deciding which nurseries and childminders we prioritise for inspection. It means working out how our models should evolve to match the changes taking place in the sector. As with the growth of multi-academy trusts in the school space, with the trend towards chain operators of nurseries I want to be sure that inspection properly reflects how things work. That it allows us to get the best assurance about young people’s education and well-being, at minimum burden to providers.

So, over the next year we will be developing our conversation with you about how we can improve our regulation and inspection. And we will use your knowledge and insight to focus our inspections where they will have the most impact. Indeed, that conversation has already started.

Making sure our work is focused is not just about who we inspect and when. It also means thinking about what we look at during inspection and where the role of an inspector has the biggest impact. We need to ask: what are the elements of provision that are genuinely best explored through inspection?

As we work towards a new inspection framework for 2019, there are a number of areas that we are reflecting on.


One of these is risk. Earlier this year, I wrote about the importance of achieving the right balance when it comes to keeping children safe. That we must be careful not to deprive children of fulfilling educational experiences for fear of ‘what if’.

For those of you who saw the piece in the news, I had more feedback, and it’s been positive feedback, about this than anything else I’ve said or written before or since. It is clearly a debate that generates significant interest and passion. I believe it is debate that is just as relevant to the early years as any other part of the education world.

The welfare and safety of children, of course, are at the very core of all early years provision. For parents, handing over their precious child into the care of strangers is a hugely emotional act. We should never underestimate the level of trust those parents are placing in childcare providers. First and foremost, parents want to be sure that you can keep their child safe from harm.

And of course you must be able to assure them of that. But my concern is that in doing so, and through the best of intentions, we are creating overly risk-free environments. Young children do need to have the opportunity to explore the world around them, to develop their physical skills or even sometimes just to run around until they are exhausted.

I am acutely aware that Ofsted hasn’t haven’t always got this right in the past. I want to be sure that our inspections and our inspectors aren’t driving any of the risk-averse behaviour.

So please understand that of course we expect you to take risk seriously and supervise young children properly. But we don’t expect you to take away the climbing frame in case someone falls or avoid journeys to the park for fear of crossing the road. It goes without saying that children need physical exercise to develop their muscular strength and dexterity but it is also important that their natural instincts to discover and explore aren’t stifled. This is, after all, one of the ways they learn.

Many of you are already striving to get this balance right. Happily, from what I observe, trends in the sector are also in the right direction. Indeed, I see one of your workshops this afternoon features forest nurseries. I know at least one of my children would have loved to spend their early childhood at one of those!

In the next few weeks, our inspectors will be doing some refresher training on how we look at safeguarding. And I do expect future inspection frameworks to be more explicit about the balance between risk and safety, always keeping in mind the requirements of the EYFS [Early Years Foundation Stage]. In the short term, we will be continuing our myth-busting campaign to make clear what we look at during an inspection and how we reach our judgements.

Speaking of myths, there is one that may be helpful for me to debunk right here, also in the spirit of being clear about what inspection does and does not focus on.

On my travels, I have had a lot of discussions about snack time and what Ofsted expects to see. I believe there are such things as ‘rolling snacks’, ‘self-serve snacks’, ‘free-flow snacks’, ‘continuous snacks’, ‘communal snacks’ – I could go on.

At first, I was perplexed. Why should the way a nursery organises its snack time be so important to Ofsted? Then I discovered that advice from various sources recommends the sort of snack that Ofsted prefers. That might have been born of a well-intended comment from one inspector to a single setting at some point, but it seems to have escalated into an enormous and pervasive myth.

So I will say here, inspectors do not expect to see any particular way of organising snacks. Communal snacks may be a useful way to introduce children to good table manners and help them to learn courtesy words, such as please and thank you.

But it is really a decision for you as providers to make. If children have other opportunities to pour water in play time, then self-service pouring is less important, and vice-versa. Ofsted is more interested in why you choose activities and the effect that they have on children’s development.

Something else that I’d like to be clear on are my comments to the Education Select Committee last week. As you may be aware, I gave the view to the committee that the quality of care in early years was very good but that of education not quite as good. I certainly was not intending to trash an entire sector, which might be the impression left from some of the follow-up coverage. I also made the point that, in my view, the problem lies, in part, with the EYFS. In the next few weeks, we will be publishing research on this issue which I hope you will find of interest.

Language development/the vital role of nurseries

This brings me to the final point I would like to raise today. There is a very important discussion to be had about the role of nurseries and childminders in preparing children for school.

The curriculum (or, to use EYFS terminology, the programme) that children experience in their early years is vital in this task. We know that young children are especially receptive between birth and age 5, when their brains develop at the fastest speed and they learn more rapidly than at any other age.

This means that the choices we make for very young children about the play things we provide, the games we play, the words we use, the stories we read and the songs we sing are all hugely important. I know that many of you here will have given the curriculum and the way you provide it much thought and I encourage you to do so.

I imagine most of you in the room today could stand with me now to recite ‘Sing a song of sixpence’ or ‘The grand old Duke of York’. But I don’t know that we can say that is still the case for children in lots of nurseries today.

That is a shame, because of the other great joy of nursery rhymes. They are a unifier. Providing a collective memory and experience for young children across the country. And often teaching a little bit of social history to boot. Which is why I would hope that every nursery and childminder would find the time for a nursery rhyme.

Nursery rhymes also help with vocabulary and we all know the huge value in helping young children develop their language skills. Put simply, the more words a child has heard by the time they start school the better. You have such an important job here, particularly to fill the gaps for those children who might not be exposed to the same range of vocabulary at home.

Children need to hear new language all the time. It might be taking the opportunity with a child looking at a pretty flower to talk to them about all the different parts of the plant. Or being more basic, talking to them while washing their hands, making suds from the soap, turning on the tap, running the water, oh dear too fast, too slow… I could go on because everything we do with children is an opportunity to introduce them to more words. Children are so open to absorbing new language. I remember when my younger daughter was 4, she had an Australian Reception teacher. I would often hear his voice in what she said – I must confess I wasn’t always thrilled about it!

So please don’t be afraid to teach them things. And before I get shouted down by the ‘save our childhood’ brigade, of course I don’t mean long lists on blackboards in formal lessons. I mean passing on new words, ideas and skills. Encouraging curiosity and rewarding inquisitiveness. Everything that helps a young child develop and be ready for school.


I know every one of you in this room shares the same ambitions that we all have at Ofsted. We all want the very best for young children across the country.

At Ofsted, we want to give you the space to do the right things. And we certainly don’t want to waste our time and yours inspecting the wrong things. We are on a journey of change, much as you are as you adapt to the new 30-hours programme. There will always be room for all of us to improve, Ofsted included. I hope we can be on that improvement journey together.