In a submission to the Commons Education and Employment Select Committee, the National Association for Adult and Continuing Education has said OFSTED has not been doing its duty.
Alan Tuckett, NIACE director, said: "OFSTED simply has not been doing enough to assure itself about the quality of provision for adults. Yet that is its statutory duty. Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, has a responsibility in law for all learning. The Government has a commitment to lifelong learning. It would be useful if OFSTED developed one."
He said that the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act divided responsibility. The Further Education Funding Council was charged with inspecting quality in FE institutions while the chief inspector must inspect quality in local education authority institutions.
The FEFC has to get the consent of OFSTED if it wants to inspect council-funded work in local authorities. That consent has only been given twice in the past five years, when joint exercises were carried out, said Mr Tuckett. There had been no hitches when OFSTED had wanted to inspect LEA-funded courses in FE colleges. "OFSTED has never managed a comparable flexibility," said Mr Tuckett.
He added that in six years there had only been 12 inspections of local authority adult and community education services in the 150 LEAs in the country.
As there were so few inspections it was difficult to identify where quality was poor. OFSTED did not have a strategy in place to inspect weaker areas. Yet the Further Education Funding Council, said Mr Tuckett, deliberately spent more time inspecting areas identified as weak.
"The priority given by OFSTED to adult learning may be, of course, a result of the lack of interest in the subject by the previous government. But OFSTED now has to change and develop a coherent policy. It may claim lack of money but I have never heard it asking for more resources in this area. In fact its budget has grown dramatically in recent years. What we now have to see is a commensurate increase in the number of inspections so that OFSTED satisfies its statutory duty," Mr Tuckett added.
An OFSTED spokesman said: "Our biggest statutory duty is inspecting the nation's schools. That is where the Government's priority is and that is where our biggest remit is.
"To say we have ignored adult education is wrong. We are not commenting on every piece of evidence that is going to the Select Committee, there are two sessions a week at the moment. We will respond when Chris Woodhead has his session with the committee in February."