Good links with industry have proved to be a hallmark of vocational training at its best, according to in-depth research by Ofsted.
The inspectorate has looked in detail at 22 colleges which achieved grades of good or above to produce a report on the teaching of agriculture, horticulture and animal care.
Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said: "The best colleges in each vocational area had common features. They all had strong links with industry and related classroom learning to the demands of the workplace; they worked hard to ensure high achievement and retention rates; and continuous assessment ensured individuals were placed on the right courses, set appropriate targets and identified for support when at risk of falling behind."
Some of the courses were taught at specialist colleges, others in larger general FE colleges. The report said: "In nearly all provision, an emphasis was placed on ensuring practical competence and employability, including the ability to work at industrial speed to high commercial standards."
Many colleges had broadened the range of courses and offered additional qualifications to bridge gaps between the standard curriculum and evolving needs of employers.
In addition to work-experience placements, some students were able to get a taste of business on-campus at colleges that had established commercial operations.
Similar remarks about the value of business links were made in a separate report on construction training, also based on visits to 22 colleges, with many students finding jobs with the employer who had provided work experience.
As well as keeping up with industry requirements, the colleges had acquired equipment and sponsorship from construction firms. In some cases, the equipment in colleges exceeded industry standards.
Against this background, there has been a steadily improving standard of construction training. The report added: "The improving picture is reflected nationally. Statistics from the Learning and Skills Council show construction, planning and the built environment as one of the most improved subject areas."
A report last year about ways colleges could become increasingly self- regulating suggested Ofsted should be less hands-on, with inspections focusing on checking the right systems are in place to ensure quality teaching.
Ofsted has conceded there could be scope for reducing the inspection burden on individual lecturers in favour of a broader assessment of the overall performance of colleges.
TEACHING FARMING AND BUILDING
The secrets to good vocational teaching in agriculture and construction, according to Ofsted's research, are:
- Creative use of information technology
- A good physical environment
- Good links with employers and industry bodies
- Links with schools that enthuse potential future students
- Ensure theory sessions are not neglected.