TECHNICAL and FURTHER EDUCATION teaching: what works and why


From: The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) – “Teaching, learning and assessment in further education and skills – what works and why”,  2014,

Introduction The further education (FE) and skills sector has a fundamental role in supporting learners’ future economic prosperity, besides promoting social and educational inclusion. The impact, for many learners, of their experience in FE and skills is lifechanging. It is not unusual for learners to move into the sector with a chequered past in terms of their formal education, and some see it as their last chance before they drop out of education and training altogether.

Learners therefore need the very best teaching to ensure that they remain on track and are able to take the right next steps to secure a future of sustained employment. To be successful, all types of learning programmes, including apprenticeships, must be underpinned by teaching, learning and assessment that are at least good.

Overall, employers must be confident that their future employees receive good quality training and assessment so that they have a solid foundation of skills that they can build on as they progress through their careers. The importance of consistently good or outstanding teaching, combined with high quality assessment, which leads to very effective learning, has never been more significant in every type of provision. The revised Common Inspection Framework 2012 emphasises the ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ judgement, with sharp focus on the role of assessment in supporting learning, the effectiveness of the leadership of teaching and learning and the extent to which leaders and managers use performance management of staff to ensure high quality provision.

Inspections have shown that this focus has had a significant impact on improving the quality of teaching across the sector. This survey evaluates what constitutes good or outstanding practice in teaching, learning and assessment in the FE and skills sector, as well as identifying where improvement in teaching, learning and assessment is needed. Inspectors’ visits to 20 outstanding providers highlighted the barriers to providing excellent teaching and training that had existed as a backdrop to their actions for improvement and to sustaining their excellent provision.

Common barriers

The following common barriers emerged across the different types of providers in the FE and skills sector:

 a culture that is driven by policies, strategies and documentation and not by practice in the classroom or training workshop

 a lack of rigour in evaluating the quality of provision that focused too much on what the teachers were doing as opposed to how well the teaching promoted learning

 a lack of leadership and some complacency in senior management teams about the quality of teaching and learning

 the low status given to managers with responsibility for teaching, learning and assessment and a widespread lack of accountability for the quality of teaching and learning

 resistance from some teaching staff to change their approach and take sufficient account of the differing needs of learners, in part because of unclear or overcomplicated organisational values and priorities, as well as weaknesses in the leadership of teaching and learning

 little investment in staff development

 investing too little in high quality resources or developing teachers’ use of information and learning technology (ILT) to underpin teaching, learning and assessment

 relying too much on low quality on-the-job training for learners and insufficient involvement of employers in planning and contributing to learning

 a highly competitive sector that was data-driven and overly focused on qualification aim success.

All the providers responded to these barriers by taking actions focused sharply on improving their provision to a very high level of effectiveness. Their priority was to make it clear that the responsibility for improvement lay firmly and collectively with leaders, managers and teachers. Senior managers made sure that they were well-informed about what was needed and led by example.

Inspectors identified some of the actions listed below as having had the greatest influence in improving teaching, learning and assessment to be outstanding and in sustaining it:

 establishing a mission and a set of values and objectives that clearly and in simple terms placed a priority on giving learners the very best learning experience and ensured a corporate approach to developing and delivering high quality provision for them

 high involvement of all stakeholders, including learners, apprentices, other workbased learners and employers in contributing to getting teaching, learning and assessment right

 significant investment in high-quality staff development that focuses sharply on the priorities and actions identified to improve teaching and learning for individual teachers

 strong and effective links to ensure that the results of rigorous observation of teaching and learning are used to manage teachers’ performance and provide relevant staff development an unrelenting focus on developing the skills learners need for progression to their next step, including employability skills, through teaching and assessment

 ensuring highly effective sharing of good practice within and across teaching teams

 developing and sustaining high quality on-the-job training and assessment through excellent links with employers. Key findings Inspections and follow-up visits to the outstanding providers have shown that the most significant factors in the provision of outstanding teaching and learning comprise a combination of:

 sharply-focused leadership

 unequivocal and well-informed direction

 the consistent use of successful teaching strategies based on sound educational principles

 realistically high expectations of learners by all staff. Additionally, rigorous performance management, closely aligned with high quality staff development, high levels of accountability for the quality of teaching for all and highly effective self-evaluation are all essential elements in ensuring sustained excellent practice. Inspectors identified the following as the most significant characteristics of outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.

 Managers and leaders are ambitious and well-informed and take responsibility for the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. Management structures and capacity at all levels support fully the emphasis on high quality teaching and learning. All staff work together to create and embed a culture that is centred on very high quality provision. All staff understand clearly, and take full responsibility for, their roles and their accountability in ensuring and sustaining quality.

 Teachers understand the purpose, and are very flexible in their use, of a particularly wide range of teaching strategies and approaches that very successfully enhance all learners’ development, regardless of their ability levels. They base these strategies and their approach on developing learners’ essential skills and knowledge in subjects and vocational specialisms as well as the wider range of skills needed for progression and employment. They adapt these quickly and effectively according to learners’ progress.

 Teachers consistently measure the success of their approach by how well learners develop their understanding, skills and knowledge. They understand clearly the importance of assessing learners’ progress frequently to help them plan and adapt each learning activity to make them most effective. Teachers structure and manage learning very effectively, including when facilitating remote learning or learning in vocational workshops or work placements.

 Teachers use assessment frequently and very effectively to ensure that all learners receive constructive feedback on their progress in each session and towards achieving their main learning goals or qualifications. They use a wide range of assessment methods, at appropriate times in learners’ programmes of study, to help learners understand what they need to do to improve. They set relevant and interesting assessments that encompass a wide range of research and presentation skills, provide challenge for learners at all levels and have a strong link to their future career aims. They provide high quality feedback that is focused sharply on further skill development.

 Vocational teachers, subject teachers and specialist teachers work closely together to develop and implement learning activities and approaches that improve learners’ skills in English and mathematics up to and, where appropriate, beyond level 2. This good work is beginning to have an impact on learners’ development of these skills in the subjects that they need to achieve their main course and specialist qualifications, and to progress to further study or work.  Teachers use their subject or vocational expertise very well to inspire and motivate learners and to underpin the high expectations they demand of them. Teachers are excellent role models and understand the significance of the influence they have on learners’ aspirations and potential for success.

 Trainers and assessors in work-based learning provision have significantly increased their focus on learning and raised their expectations of what apprentices and other work-based learners can achieve. Managers have strengthened quality assurance arrangements, including using them in subcontracted provision. They involve employers fully in contributing to planning and implementing learning programmes.

Inspectors also identified several weaker features of teaching, learning and assessment that need improving across the sector.

 Relatively little outstanding practice exists in teaching of English and mathematics. Outstanding providers generally have a well-established and strong focus on improving teaching and learning in these subjects, but consistently good or outstanding practice is not yet widespread.

 The expertise evident in teacher education departments that provide teaching or assessing qualifications for unqualified teachers and those that need to gain further accreditation of their teaching or assessing skills is not used widely enough across colleges in developing all teachers’ skills, supporting high-quality staff development and in sharing of good practice. Often, these departments work separately from managers and teachers who deliver cross-college staff development and this disconnect limits the potential for maximum gain from the good provision.

 Staff development in work-based learning is increasing in volume and more closely linked to teaching and learning priorities. However, it often lacks focus and is insufficient to ensure that staff are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to support learning and to ensure learners’ good progress. Only relatively recently has enough attention been paid to ensuring the quality of teaching and learning in subcontracted provision, which is not always of a high enough quality.

Recommendations for the Education and Training Foundation

 To support the sector to improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, directors should:

 reinforce the importance of good leadership and high expectations of learners across the sector

 use the professional standards for teachers and trainers as a basis for promoting consistently good or better practice across the sector.

Recommendations for providers

 To improve teaching, learning and assessment and maintain high standards across their provision, leaders should:

 take full overall responsibility for the quality of teaching, learning and assessment across all types of programmes, including subcontractors

 ensure that they are rigorous and self-critical in their evaluation of the quality of teaching, learning and assessment and that they set, and frequently review, ambitious targets for improvement

 evaluate the quality of teachers’ practice by using a wide range of indicators of the impact of their work on learners’ progress and their development of skills and knowledge

 draw fully on learners’ views about the teaching, learning and assessment that they receive to inform self-assessment and improvement actions

 consult with employers on how well the standards of work and the range of skills their learners achieve prepare them for employment

 support and develop all teachers to improve by ensuring that the fundamental aspects of good quality teaching underpin all teachers’ practice

 provide high quality and relevant development opportunities for all staff, as individuals, in teams and across the provision, including those in workbased settings and subcontractors

 use the expertise available in teacher education departments more widely to support actions for improvement.

 To ensure that they fulfil their role in achieving consistently high standards for learners, teachers should:

 have consistently high expectations for their learners, based on an accurate assessment of their starting points and an understanding of how the course or programme relates to their plans for the next step in their careers

 be flexible in their selection of teaching and learning methods, approaches, activities and resources according to the aims of each session and the development needs of all the learners

 ensure that they measure the effectiveness of these approaches and activities on developing the skills and knowledge of all learners in each session

 ensure that their assessment practice is of a consistently high standard and used frequently to provide learners with relevant constructive feedback that helps them understand and put into place what they need to do to achieve their ambitious targets

 work collaboratively, where possible, with other providers to share good practice and learn from each other, and be prepared to take calculated risks and be innovative in their practice.

 To inspire learners and help them to take greater responsibility for their own learning and achievement, managers and teachers should:

 support learners to achieve greater autonomy in their learning in a planned and structured way so that they develop a range of study skills, including, in peer and self-assessment, a reflective approach to their own learning and the ability to be self-critical about their own performance

 use assessments that are realistic, challenging and require learners to use a wide range of skills

 develop further the use of ILT so that it complements and enhances learning as well as giving learners wider access to learning resources and teachers’ support.

 To motivate learners and help them develop the skills in English and mathematics that they may have struggled to gain in the past, leaders and managers should:

ensure that they give learners the best chance of success in improving and accrediting their skills by giving English and mathematics a very high profile across all learning programmes and all types of provision

 ensure that teachers with very good specialist expertise support learners’ development across the provision, either directly as teachers or through working closely with vocational teams.

 To ensure that all provision helps learners develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes that will give them a greater chance of sustained employment in the future, leaders and managers should:

 involve employers fully in planning and implementing learning programmes

 ensure that staff involved in work-based learning and other vocational training take full responsibility for learners developing a wide range of skills.


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