Ofsted report reveals the Covid challenge for colleges

Ofsted's report from its interim visits shows the difficulties faced by further education providers amid the Covid crisis

Kate Parker

Coronavirus: The impact of the crisis on colleges has been revealed in an Ofsted report, based on its interim visits

Nearly all college leaders who had interim visits from Ofsted over recent weeks felt under increasing financial pressure following the coronavirus outbreak, a new report from the inspectorate reveals. 

The report highlights the financial and delivery challenges further education providers have faced this year – and it includes briefing documents on what Ofsted found during its interim visits to providers.

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Nearly all leaders at the 36 FE providers visited said that the pandemic had placed them “under increased financial pressure” because it had increased their costs while reducing their income.

Coronavirus: Colleges under 'increased financial pressure'

The report says: “Some leaders were concerned about the longer-term future. One said that, due to apprentices being furloughed, they were required to pay money back to the Education and Skills Funding Agency and that if the same happened again it could cause them serious financial problems. 

“Other leaders were worried that, if learners remain on the course for longer than originally planned, it might lead to funding and capacity issues in the future. Leaders were also concerned about what will happen when the funding flexibilities for EPAs come to an end. More than one leader was concerned that, without further funding, they would need to make staff redundancies.”

The report adds that additional costs related to moving to remote learning, ensuring that sites were Covid-secure, the need for additional pastoral support and increased cleaning, bursary requests from learners, and induction costs.

A report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that despite the £400 million extra in funding this year, exceptional rises in student numbers could still generate a real-terms fall in funding per student for colleges. 

And the Department for Education's annual report, published last week, found that the financial sustainability of colleges remained a “significant risk”. 

The impact on mental health

Ofsted also says that leaders found the delivery of practical elements of courses challenging, as well as reviewing and assessing work remotely. Leaders also reported concerns around keeping learners – particularly those with high needs – safe on public transport, a lack of Covid-19 testing and increasing requests from local authorities for information that placed more pressure on staff. 

Following media reports that young people were spreading the virus, recruitment to colleges had become more challenging. Learners themselves told Ofsted that they were struggling with their mental health.

The report says: “Learners we spoke to who had mental health conditions said they had experienced a deterioration in their health during the period of the first national lockdown. This is also reflected in some providers reporting an increase in the number of learners reporting medical and/or mental health needs at the start of autumn term when compared with previous year 

“As learners returned in autumn, many of the providers we spoke to were placing an enhanced focus on mental health and wellbeing. Some providers have embedded wellbeing and resilience into their curriculum.”

Commenting on the report, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “We have now entered a second national lockdown. This time, at least, schools, colleges and nurseries are to remain open. That is very good news indeed. The impact of school closures in the summer will be felt for some time to come – and not just in terms of education, but in all the ways they impact on the lives of young people. 

“As it was in the first lockdown, the work of teachers, social workers and carers, with the support of parents, will again be critical to the future success and happiness of our children.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The government has been clear that getting all pupils and students back into full-time education is a national priority. From June, schools saw 1.6 million pupils return and then opened fully to all pupils from the start of this term.    

“We know that some children do need additional support to catch up as a result of the pandemic, which is why we launched a £1 billion Covid catch-up fund for schools to support those children who need it.

“Our National Tutoring Programme is now live in schools, providing intensive support to the most disadvantaged children. The evidence shows high-quality tutoring can make up as much as three to five months’ lost learning.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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