Amanda Spielman has warned that the FE sector will continue to struggle without a higher base rate of funding.
Presenting her first annual report as Ofsted chief inspector, Ms Spielman pointed out that the proportion of FE colleges rated good or outstanding in their most recent inspection had dropped from 71 per cent at the end of August 2016 to 69 per cent a year on.
The report points out that 18 colleges' performances declined from "good" or "outstanding", with inspectors finding too few learners were completing and achieving their qualifications and were not being set "challenging" targets or provided with sufficiently detailed feedback.
Ms Spielman told the audience at the launch in Westminster: "'I don't want this to be the annual lecture for criticising the state of further education", but said that the sector's performance "continues to lag behind". "Despite some promising recent inspection outcomes, the headline figures show a further 2 percentage point decline in the number of good and outstanding general FE colleges and a rather larger drop of 8 percentage points for sixth-form colleges," she added.
"The government has recognised the problems in the sector and has begun a series of welcome initiatives investing in skills education. However, I do believe that until base rate funding is increased, the sector will continue to struggle."
After the speech, Ofsted's deputy director for FE and skills, Paul Joyce, told Tes that the inspectorate planned to "pay particular attention" to the impact of funding on post-16 provision.
"If we are seeing [situations] where funding is starting to affect the curriculum or the quality of provision, we will start saying [so]," he said, adding: "I'm with Amanda, I think there needs to be an increase in funding for this sector to improve."
Ms Spielman also highlighted the "mismatch between college provision and the labour market", arguing that too many colleges put students on "interesting and engaging" subjects such as performing arts and sports – with no clear "line of sight" to work.
Spielman 'absolutely right'
The chief inspector's comments on funding were welcomed by the Sixth Form Colleges Association. Policy officer Deepa Jethwa said: "The chief inspector was absolutely right to say that institutions will struggle to maintain standards without an increase in the base rate of funding – that was a very helpful intervention and chimes with the main recommendation of the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign."
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Ofsted’s culture and the taken approach to colleges have both changed markedly in the last year under the new chief inspector. We have experienced much more constructive and understanding dialogue and now have a stronger relationship with Ofsted. We are seeing a much more nuanced and thoughtful set of issues emerging in this year’s annual report.