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FE sector welcomes Ofsted's funding 'wake-up call'

Further education leaders have reacted to the publication of the inspectorate's annual report this morning

ofsted colleges FE skills providers inspectors funding budget

Further education leaders have reacted to the publication of the inspectorate's annual report this morning

Leaders in further education have welcomed Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman's calls for better funding in the sector.

Funding was among the areas highlighted by Ms Spielman as she spoke at the launch of the inspectorate's annual report this morning. The report also states that more than three-quarters of general FE colleges were rated "good" or "outstanding" in their most recent inspection, but warns that “there is potential for a dilution in the quality of apprenticeships". 

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said:We were very pleased to hear Amanda Spielman highlighting the funding pressures facing sixth-form education this morning and calling for an increase to the 16-18 funding rate.

"The partners in the Raise the Rate campaign are delighted to have such a powerful advocate for our cause. The chief inspector’s comments, and the evidence set out in the annual report, should act as a wake-up call to HM Treasury ahead of next year’s Spending Review."

He added: "The fact that 81 per cent of sixth-form colleges and over three-quarters of 16-19 academies are rated by Ofsted as 'good' or 'outstanding' is testament to the hard work and dedication of staff who are being asked to do more with less every year. To maintain these high standards, the government must prioritise an increase to the 16-18 funding rate.”

Funding challenges

The Association of Colleges also welcomed Ofsted's awareness of the funding challenges colleges face. 

David Hughes, AoC chief executive, said: "In spite of the 30 per cent cuts to their budgets over the last 30 years, colleges are delivering fantastic training and education for over 2.2 million people. The government does, however, need to use next year's Spending Review as an opportunity to address the struggles of colleges who have to make ends meet whilst meeting community and employer needs."

He added: "The report also looked at the role of apprenticeship provision under the levy. Like Ofsted, I believe it is important that we ensure funding is available for young people to access apprenticeships and to get the skills they need so they can get on in life, rather than it being used for senior people in big organisations. Overall, it is just nice to see a Chief Inspector’s report which is evidence-based and fair.”

'Reliant on goodwill'

University and College Union (UCU) head of policy and campaigns, Matt Waddup, said Ofsted had "rightly recognised that a failure to invest in further education risks undermining colleges’ ability to deliver for students". 

He added: "Colleges are increasingly reliant on the goodwill of staff, who go above and beyond despite having seen the value of their pay tumble. The further education sector has a crucial role to play in delivering the skills this country needs, but it can’t keep doing more for less. If we are to succeed we need stronger government support for colleges, their staff and their students. 

'Failure to invest'

Gordon Marsden, Labour’s shadow FE and skills minister, said Ofsted's annual report "exposes this government’s complete failure to invest in our further education sector".

"Ministers are letting down many of our hard-working FE colleges and providers, who have rated significant improvements – with three quarters of colleges judged good or outstanding in this year’s Ofsted inspections," said Mr Marsden. 

“Ofsted has confirmed that government’s arbitrary chase of their 3 million apprenticeship target has led to a dilution of quality and a rebadging of apprenticeships, something Labour repeatedly warned ministers would happen." 

Community learning and skills

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said, given that independent training providers (ITPs) had been required to get on top of the new apprenticeship standards and had been responding to the individual demands of employers, many of whom were new to the apprenticeship programme, "78 per cent of them being 'good' or 'outstanding' is a great testament to their responsiveness".

"As Ofsted hasve explained, the figure for established ITPs would be even better if the inspectorate had split out new providers and employer providers from the overall percentage and we would like to see this changed for next year.  It also underlines why the Education and Skills Funding Agency is right to raise the bar in the approvals process when the register of apprenticeship training providers is reopened shortly and to insist that all providers have to reapply."

Sue Pember, director for policy and external relations at adult education body Holex, said: “This year’s Ofsted chief inspector’s report and underlining data highlights how successful our community learning and skills providers are. Community adult education providers are leading the FE sector, with 88 per cent ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’."

She added that providers' success was even more remarkable considering they were responding to a 40 per cent decrease in funding over the past 10 years.

"Even in this uncomfortable funding environment, community education services have proved their worth, their ability to provide quality provision and to remain in budget," Ms Pember said. 

"The chief inspector’s report highlights the effectiveness and ability of community education services, and the time is now right for the post-18 funding review to recommend a rebalancing of the post-18 spend and to invest in those adults most in need of upskilling."

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