Senior figures across the FE sector have given a cautious welcome to Ofsted's annual report.
The inspectorate found that the overall performance of general FE colleges had declined in 2015-16, while sixth-form colleges and independent learning providers saw their performance improve. Speaking at the publication of the report, Sir Michael Wilshaw, in his final speech as chief inspector, said that FE providers should not be “let off the hook” over the high number of students failing to achieve at least a grade C in English and maths at GCSE.
Reaction from the sector
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges
“Her Majesty’s chief inspector rightly emphasises the importance of the further education sector in equipping young people and adults for successful careers, but he also points to shortfalls amongst a minority of colleges.
“The report helpfully highlights the huge burden that colleges have been handed by schools failing to support young people to achieve good GCSEs in English and maths. Over 70 per cent start college without these qualifications. This is an enormous challenge, given the huge numbers of resits, the lack of a credible alternative qualification and the inappropriateness of GCSE in preparing people for further learning and work.
“Ofsted’s annual report is challenging for colleges but it also shows how the majority of colleges are innovative, creative and resilient. Colleges are facing up to the challenges and they are making great strides to improve quality.”
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth-Form Colleges’ Association
"Ofsted’s annual report highlights the continued improvement of sixth-form colleges – 89 per cent are now 'good' or 'outstanding'. This is a remarkable achievement and is testament to the hard work of sixth-form college students, staff and leaders. It is all the more impressive given the time-consuming distraction of area reviews and the relentless cost pressures that sixth-form colleges have had to endure over the past 12 months. The sector’s work in implementing the Prevent duty is also rightly acknowledged in the report.
"We were also pleased to see Ofsted join the SFCA in drawing attention to the underperformance of small school sixth-forms. This again calls into question the government’s policy of rationalising large, high-performing sixth-form providers through the area review process, while encouraging the growth of small – often poorly performing – sixth forms in the schools sector. Our analysis shows that around half of school and academy sixth-forms do not meet the government’s own guidelines of having a minimum of 200 students, and 16 per cent of school and academies were funded for fewer than 100 students last year. The government must be even-handed in its approach to dealing with the market entry and market exit of sixth-form providers."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union
“Further education colleges continue to provide a great education to students across the country. The report is right to question the scope and effectiveness of area reviews in improving local education for students. We understand that some recommendations are already being rejected, which suggests the exercise has been a significant waste of time and resources in some areas. Lessons need to be learned to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated in ongoing reviews.
“We also share the report’s concerns about the GCSE resit policy for English and maths. Colleges cater for many of the students who struggle most in these subjects, and repeated resits can be extremely demotivating for students. The government should heed these concerns and consider alternatives to this unhelpful policy.”
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers
“There is scope for further improvement in some apprenticeship programmes, but to those who feel that the apprenticeship reforms may be just about achieving the government’s 3 million target, we would say the picture is looking bright. High-quality independent training providers deliver a large majority of apprenticeships and, therefore, both employers and apprentices will benefit from entrusting their programmes with them. Today’s Ofsted report is a reminder to businesses and young people to exercise their apprenticeship choices with care.”