Ofsted annual report: colleges' performance drops – but signs of improvement

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman also warns that ‘substantial’ funding available for apprenticeships could attract dubious providers into the sector

Stephen Exley

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The proportion of FE colleges rated "good" or "outstanding" has dropped, Ofsted’s annual report has revealed – but there are “signs of improvement” in the sector.

The proportion which obtained the top two grades in their most recent inspection dropped from 71 per cent at the end of August 2016 to 69 per cent at the same point this summer. Some 18 colleges saw their performance decline from "good" or "outstanding", with inspectors finding that too few learners were completing and achieving their qualifications, and many were not being set "challenging" targets or provided with sufficiently detailed feedback.

'New culture'

Nine colleges improved to "good" during 2016-17, with eight of them having appointed new leadership teams since their previous inspection and having a “new culture” driving improvements. In addition, in seven of the 10 colleges found to require improvement, inspectors found “new principals and/or senior leadership teams were starting to have a positive impact”.

Another issue highlighted was the lack of progress made by many learners in English and maths. However, the report repeats concerns raised last year that the GCSE resit policy was “not having the desired outcome” in terms of students improving their grades.

A statement published alongside the report also raised concerns that the increase in apprenticeship funding made available through the introduction of the levy could attract "cowboy operators that are not committed to high-quality learning".

'Repeating the mistakes of the past'

It added: "The apprenticeship levy is raising a substantial amount of money to fund training. Without adequate scrutiny, we will risk repeating the mistakes of the past – attracting cowboy operators that are not committed to high-quality learning."

The inspectorate will "closely monitor the quality of training to make sure learners get the entitlement they deserve", it said.

Concerns were also raised about the fact that while most apprenticeships delivered in 2016-17 were at levels 2 and 3, over a third of the standards approved for deliery were at level 4 and above.

“If this trend continues, there will not be enough approved standards at levels 2 and 3,” the report states. “This could have a detriental impact on the recruitment of 16- to 18-year-olds into apprenticeships.

In October, chief inspector Amanda Spielman – today presenting her first annual report as chief inspector – told the Commons Education Select Committee that Ofsted would need "additional resource" to guard against "some cowboys, some sharks [and] some bottom-feeders".

'High level of change'

Overall, 80 per cent of FE providers were rated "good" or "outstanding" in their most recent inspection at the end of 2016-17. The report also acknowledges the “unusually high level of change”, with college mergers and sixth-form colleges converting to academy status. As a result of the latter, the proportion rated "good" or "outstanding" dropped by eight percentage points to 81 per cent.

Elsewhere, 80 per cent of independent learning providers were rated "good" or "outstanding", compared with 83 per cent of community learning and skills providers and 82 per ent of independent specialist colleges.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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