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The good, the bad and the misgivings

Another report from the inspectorate, published today, gives a largely top-of-the-range verdict on Scotland's colleges, writes Neil Munro.

In a more detailed review of college performance than emerged from HMIE's Improving Scottish Education (ISE) report, an analysis of quality and standards in FE from 2004-08 found that inspectors "expressed confidence" in:

- learning and teaching in all 43 colleges;

- progress and achievements of students in 41 colleges;

- management and improvement of services for learners in 40 colleges.

The inspectors singled out 182 examples of what is known in FE as SLIP (sector-leading and innovative practice). But the report called for action on the same shortcomings as were highlighted in the ISE report:

- too narrow a range of teaching methods;

- better use of ICT in lectures;

- more evaluation of staff CPD to ensure it was benefitting students;

- improving checks on learners' understanding of what they were being taught, and giving them effective feedback.

Student progress and achievement, gathered in evidence from 293 subject reviews, was not all it might seem, claims the report. While 87 per cent of the grades recorded were "very good" or "good", only 29 per cent were "very good", which meant "the majority of subject areas ... had weaknesses or important weaknesses that colleges need to address". These related mostly to high drop-out rates and low attainment.

The FE review also provided a frank appraisal of how inspections were rated by college staff - from "HMIs put me at my ease" and "the feedback was useful and fair" to "demands on staff were excessive" and "too long between the review and the formal publishing of the result".

The report says it will make improvements in inspection arrangements for 2008-12 to take account of the misgivings raised.

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