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Colleges have "turned the corner" with Ofsted - and could even have outperformed schools

Last November, colleges came in for heavy criticism in the watchdog’s annual report; no fewer than 13 were rated inadequate and – for the second consecutive year – not a single college was judged to be providing outstanding teaching and learning.

This prompted an angry response from the sector, with the Association of Colleges (AoC) arguing that Sir Michael had made several “important omissions which [undermined] the credibility of some of his conclusions”.

But preliminary figures for the last few months, collated by the AoC, suggest that colleges made a marked improvement in their performance in inspections during 2012-13 – and even managed to outperform secondary schools.

As of 12 July, the AoC has calculated that 74 per cent of FE and sixth-form colleges were rated good (51 per cent) or outstanding (23 per cent) in their most recent inspection – 10 percentage points higher than a year ago. In March, Walsall College became the first FE college to be rated outstanding under the current framework.

By way of comparison, as of 1 July, 48 per cent of state secondaries were graded good and 24 per cent were rated outstanding, meaning that a slightly higher proportion of colleges achieved one of the inspectorate’s top two rankings. This bucks the trend of recent years, in which schools have consistently achieved better grades than colleges overall.

In 2012-13 alone, the AoC says that 6 per cent of colleges were rated outstanding, compared with 2 per cent the previous year, and the proportion of institutions rated inadequate dropped from 22 per cent to 4 per cent in the same period.

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, told TES that his members had “turned the corner”. “Colleges have taken to heart the chief inspector’s comments last year,” he said. “They have had a long hard look at themselves and listened to what was said about focusing on teaching and learning.

“This is a high-performing sector delivering students’ needs, and this set of results bears that out. For me, this is a return to form, rather than an exceptional year.”

While the early signs look promising, Ofsted will not be releasing its next set of official inspection statistics until next month, and colleges will have to wait until the inspectorate’s next annual report is published in November before finding out conclusively whether they have managed to outshine the schools sector.

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