Ofsted: FE sector has 'fundamental underlying weakness'

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A “fundamental underlying weakness” in FE provision has led to a drop in Ofsted grades across the sector, with provision being affected by ineffective leadership “across most regions of the country,” the inspectorate’s annual report says.

FE colleges' leadership was rated good or outstanding in just 44 per cent of institutions inspected in 2014-15, down 19 percentage points from the previous year.

“Her Majesty’s Inspectors have reported concerns about the performance of leaders in the sector across most regions of the country, with London performing slightly worse than other areas in contrast to the remarkable performance of London schools,” the report says.

Sharing good practice between institutions is “something that is not always done well or willingly in this highly competitive sector”, it adds.

After two years of steady improvement in the sector, this year’s report argues that “quality has declined”. While this is partly “to be expected” after previous increases, the report says “the evidence in general FE colleges suggests that this reversal is one indicator of more fundamental underlying weakness”.

Overall the number of FE colleges rated good or outstanding has dropped from 79 per cent last year to 77 per cent this year. The equivalent figures for sixth-form colleges and independent training providers for 2014-15 are 88 per cent and 79 per cent respectively.

As TES has reported, Ofsted has raised particular concerns about how colleges are coping with GCSE English and maths resits.

The report also highlights the funding pressures facing the sector, which it says has led to the number of learners dropping by 267,000 in one year.

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