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'Only collaboration, not competition, will lead to skills success'

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, writes:

AELP’s analysis of Ofsted inspection judgements highlights the outstanding contribution of further education colleges to skills provision. Further education colleges, which teach the majority of 16-18 year olds, achieve outstanding judgements more often than other providers in almost every category.

This should be taken as a firm message to those who seek to marginalise colleges and training providers in favour of employers. Colleges must be placed at the heart of a collaborative skills system which draws on the strengths of everyone involved in our education and training system.  

Stewart Segal is absolutely right to highlight the fact that "delivery models are complex and many apprenticeship programmes, for example, are delivered in partnership between FE colleges and ITPs." Yet, the focus of the report, comparing the two, seems to encourage greater competition when we know that effective provision relies on collaboration building on the strengths of a variety of providers.

This is further highlighted by the AELP's analysis that demonstrates the gulf in performance between FE colleges, and ITPs on the one hand, and employer provision on the other; 20 per cent of the latter provision was judged to be inadequate compared to just 5 per cent of FE colleges and 6 per cent of ITPs. Clearly employers must be a part of both the design and delivery of skills education but they neither desire, nor are they well placed to take on all of that provision.

As ever, it is important to exercise caution when using Ofsted judgements, which offer a snapshot of institutional performance, to make broader assessments on the performance of whole sectors. What the AELP study does show however is that FE colleges are delivering outstanding education across the board and were most likely to achieve outstanding judgements for overall performance, study programmes, teaching, leadership and management, and for outcomes of both apprentices and study programme students.

Whilst we know that Ofsted judgements do not reflect the full value of the work that colleges do for learners, their communities, and the country more broadly. It is clear that in order to create a world-class skills system we must place high-performing educational institutions at the heart of skills provision.

This analysis should be seen as a vindication of the hard work of colleges, and ITPs, as well as a warning to those who wish to see greater control of skills provision by employers at the expense of colleges and providers.

Our recent report Future Colleges called for colleges to become hubs of workforce development at the heart of collaboration in the local skills system. This analysis further demonstrates that to keep on improving education and skills provision in this country we must seek to build on the existing positive relationships between colleges, providers, and employers in order to foster greater collaboration and utilise the strengths of all those involved. 

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