“Burdensome and bureaucratic” data regulations mean that many FE providers are unaware which of their learners come from disadvantaged backgrounds, Ofsted has claimed.
The watchdog’s annual report states that “too many” colleges and training providers do not provide appropriate support for their most vulnerable learners because crucial personal information collected by schools is not passed on to them.
Despite the fact that the sector is responsible for hundreds of thousands of young people each year who have dropped out of mainstream education, Ofsted argue that while schools have developed an “increasing focus on the achievement of this group of children”, the FE sector is lagging behind in tailoring specialist provision to their needs.
“In the FE and skills sector, it is too often the case that managers and staff do not know who these young people are or what provision and support would be most appropriate for them,” the report says. “The best providers take steps to overcome this, but the regulations that govern the transfer of information from schools are burdensome and bureaucratic.”
Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s director of FE skills, told TES that the main problem is that details about which students were eligible for free school meals (FSM) are not passed on to colleges.
“We know from destination data that a big proportion of school leavers were previously carrying the FSM status but, of course, colleges don’t know who they are receiving because that data won’t transfer over.
“My challenge to the government is to allow that free transfer of information so that colleges can know who they are supporting, can target even better the support arrangements they are generally well known for being good at and they can target [learners] more precisely.
“The best providers take real steps to overcome that lack of information by communicating directly with schools and local authorities, but often they just are not able to be told the information.”
On the whole, however, the FE sector – subjected to stinging criticism in last year’s report – has “raised its game”, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw acknowledged, with a 7 per cent increase in the proportion of FE providers judged to be good or outstanding.
But the quality of apprenticeships was called into question, with 9 per cent of provision inspected during 2012-13 found to be inadequate. “What’s really inadequate,” Mr Coffey said, “is where an apprenticeship is just a route for something else. That might be a recruitment route or a labour provision route. So where [an employer is] using an apprenticeship for something that it’s not intended for, that’s where we see poor provision.”
The report also highlights a “lack of strategic oversight”, which it says is creating a disconnect between training and the needs of local employers.
“This 'mismatch' is a direct result of ‘perverse incentives’ that encourage colleges to provide courses that appeal to learners rather than ones that meet local employment needs,” the report asserts.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, blamed the issue on a funding system which, he said, "does not incentivise providers to work together and to plan for local people and employers".
"Colleges want to work with Ofsted, with schools and with local enterprise partnerships in order to inspire and guide young people into jobs that benefit them and the economy."