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Softening the blow with a pretty picture

Just as they feared, Sir Michael Wilshaw made his complaints about colleges the main story in his first annual report. "Ofsted has identified major concerns with the quality of provision in the post-16 learning and skills sector, especially in colleges," blared the press release.

At the same time, it unveiled its new web-based Data View tool, which produces attractive visualisations to demonstrate that, far from being "especially" bad, colleges had more students in good or outstanding provision than independent training providers. Sixth-form colleges outperformed schools with far more outstanding provision.

Meanwhile, the new short-notice inspection system is taking a terrible human toll. Colleagues at Cambridge Regional College had the farewell cake ready to cut earlier this month as vice-principal Christine Sherwin was leaving to become principal of Long Road Sixth Form College. But then the inspectors came knocking.

Instead of getting her feet under a new desk and ordering in luxury biscuits, as is the principal's prerogative, Ms Sherwin was forced to run around after the Ofsted overlords for the next week. After all that, they'd better give her a good report.

Driven to despair

Business secretary Vince Cable seemed very downbeat at the Association of Colleges conference. He even went off the script of his speech to highlight a policy that had failed. "Last year, I talked to you about the increasing role of (higher education) in FE," he said. "It hasn't happened as fast and as rapidly as I'd hoped."

He spoke like a bewildered and disappointed onlooker. But, of course, as the person in charge of the HE system, he cut the number of new, low-cost places available to colleges through the "core and margin" system. This year, he said: "We're looking at the funding arrangements for core and margin." Five minutes later, asked if he would increase it, he said, "It's not just a question of core and margin."

FErret suspects that when Vince says "looking at", that's all he means: staring at it, letting out a sigh of despair and being pushed around by university vice-chancellors.

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