Ofsted considers campus grades after area reviews

Move would aim to boost local accountability in colleges with geographical spreads

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Colleges could face closer scrutiny from inspectors under plans being proposed by Ofsted to introduce separate campus grades for colleges. The suggestion is a bid to improve local accountability in the aftermath of the area reviews, TES can reveal.

Paul Joyce, the inspectorate’s deputy director for FE and skills, has also expressed concerns that area reviews are taking “the focus off the day job” in some colleges and risk affecting the quality of provision.

Ofsted currently grades colleges only at corporation level. The change is being considered in response to the area reviews, which are likely to result in a smaller number of larger colleges, which are likely to operate across several geographical locations.

Following discussions between Ofsted, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) and the Department for Education, a consultation, expected to begin this month, will seek views from the sector on whether inspection reports should also include a separate overall grade for each campus.

Extra inspectors

The proposals follow lobbying by some large college groups, first reported by TES in January.

If supported by college leaders, the move could see extra inspectors visiting college sites at the same time as the central corporations are being inspected.

“The proposal is to inspect the corporation and its constituent campuses at the same time, but to potentially also award individual overall effectiveness grades to campuses,” Mr Joyce said.

The inspectorate’s proposals have been welcomed by NCG, (formerly known as the Newcastle College Group), one of the biggest FE providers in the country. With a turnover of more than £178 million and more than 3,000 staff spread across a total of 61 locations, NCG operates FE colleges in Newcastle, Kidderminster and Skelmersdale. The group also runs two training providers, along with a sixth-form college.

Under the current framework, all of them are covered by a single report. “Ofsted finds it practically impossible to inspect NCG and understand its constituent parts,” said chief executive Joe Docherty.

“It does not discriminate between performance in West Lancashire College, Kidderminster College or Newcastle College, and is therefore not serving the interests of learners, businesses or any other critical stakeholders of any of the colleges. We welcome the consultation and will be delighted to take part.”

Ofsted’s proposals were also supported by the Association of Colleges (AoC). Deputy chief executive Gill Clipson said: “We have been raising the issue of campus-level inspections with Ofsted for some time and we look forward to the details of the consultation. Colleges cover a wide geographical area and a campus-level grade will be a benefit to parents and students in choosing where to study.”

Quality of provision

In an interview with TES, Mr Joyce also spoke of his concerns about how “uncertainty around management structures” and the future of colleges was affecting the quality of provision. “We’ve seen some instances where there’s been an overreliance on temporary staff or interim managers,” he said. “In some cases that’s been for a longer period of time than perhaps would have been ideal.

He continued: “I continue to be worried about leadership capacity within the sector to take some of the area reviews’ recommendations forward, or to stabilise and improve some of the colleges where we’ve identified issues around quality or around leadership and management capacity.

“I am aware from talking with principals and other stakeholders that, clearly, area reviews and other restructuring is taking a significant amount of time out of leadership time and capacity. And certainly I do have some worries about whether that’s taking the focus off the day job, in terms of the actions required to either sustain or improve performance within colleges.”

The AoC’s Ms Clipson said that colleges were “acutely aware of serving the needs of today’s students and employers”.

“Nevertheless, it’s a very demanding time for colleges, given the pressures that area reviews bring,” she added.

A Bis spokeswoman said: “Area reviews are focused on ensuring high-quality and financially sustainable colleges across England, which meet the economic and educational needs of learners and employers.”

This is an article from the 1 July edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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