Ofsted blasts 'low-level arts and media' courses

Some colleges steer students on to 'superficially attractive courses that fill rolls', warns Ofsted's Amanda Spielman

Stephen Exley

The introduction of short-notice Ofsted inspections forces headteachers to choose between family and school, says one school leader

Some colleges are still steering too many students on to “superficially attractive” arts and media courses that may not deliver good long-term career prospects, Ofsted’s chief inspector has warned.

At the launch of the inspectorate’s annual report for 2018-19 today, Amanda Spielman stressed the importance of thinking “strategically” about skills needed for the economy.

She raised concerns about colleges placing too many students on “low-level arts and media qualifications”. This was an issue Ms Spielman previously raised at the Association of Colleges’ annual conference in 2018, when she warned that colleges risked giving students “false hope” by offering a large number of places for courses relating to sectors with few job opportunities.

In her speech at today’s event in Westminster, she also discussed the imbalance of apprenticeships being delivered, adding that there was “clearly room for greater targeting of government funding in post-16 education of all kinds”.


Read more: Ofsted annual report: Colleges improve, ITPs decline

Background: FE providers left for a decade without Ofsted inspection

More news: Ofsted hits back against schools 'narrowing education'


Ofsted: Colleges 'must match skills to opportunities'

“Now, more than ever, we must think strategically about skills and how the further education sector is funded and encouraged to provide the right courses of the right quality,” Ms Spielman said.

“I’m not happy that some colleges steer too many of their students towards superficially attractive courses that fill their rolls and attract funding – whether or not they open doors for the students who take them.

“This doesn’t mean the courses young people are taking are completely worthless. But flooding a local job market with young people with, say, low-level arts and media qualifications when the big growth in demand is for green energy workers will result in too many under-employed and dissatisfied young people, and wind turbines left idle.

“We need a clearer focus on matching skills to opportunities.”

FE providers based in communities that the government wants to “level up” could play a key role, Ms Spielman said.

“What better way to level up than to radically improve the quality of vocational and skills education in our towns? But it does also mean tackling the small minority of colleges that have under-performed or been ‘stuck’ for years.”

Apprenticeships 'bent out of shape'

Ms Spielman also raised concerns about the apprenticeship programme being “bent… out of shape”, with too many apprentices taking programmes in healthcare and management.

“The quality of courses is still sometimes too low and the proportion of [independent learning providers] judged 'good' or 'outstanding' declined this year, for the third year in succession. This needs to change,” she said.

 “Apprenticeships can be transformational for young people. And yet one in five of all new levy-funded apprenticeships are higher- and degree-level, often aimed at people who are already doing the job or who don’t need the leg up that a great entry-level apprenticeship can provide.

“Meanwhile, there are more than twice as many apprentices in business and retail as there are in the priority areas of construction and engineering.

"The government and providers must look at what can be done to redress the balance across apprenticeships. The critical 16 to 19 age group needs to be better catered for and decisions must be made about how to reverse the decline in school leavers taking up apprenticeships.”

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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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