'Outstanding' FE providers to lose Ofsted exemption

College and FE providers rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted will no longer be free from regular inspections

Stephen Exley

'Outstanding' colleges and FE providers are to lose their Ofsted inspection exemption, education secretary Gavin Williamson has said

Colleges and FE providers that have been rated “outstanding” by Ofsted will no longer be exempt from regular inspections.

After the Department for Education yesterday revealed that "outstanding" schools will no longer be given an exemption from routine Ofsted inspection, it today confirmed to Tes that the new policy will also apply to the FE sector.

A DfE spokesperson said: "We are planning to remove the exemption for colleges and any other providers that currently benefit from the exemption (either through current legislation or Ofsted policy). So that includes: general FE colleges, sixth-form colleges, designated institutions, 16-19 academies, [independent learning providers] and not-for-profit providers."

This means that more than 150 providers that received the top grade in their most recent report will be brought back into the regular inspection cycle.

FE policy: £400m boost for colleges: 16-18 funding finally raised

Background: FE providers left for a decade without Ofsted inspection

More news: Colleges to receive £100m for rising pensions bill

Ofsted inspections: 'Leaving no stone unturned'

According to Ofsted’s most recent statistics, more some 52 providers have not been subject to a full inspection for more than 10 years.

In yesterday’s announcement, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Every parent wants to know their child is getting a great education, and I will leave no stone unturned in my drive to deliver that.”

The announcement follows the news of a £400 million funding package for colleges and school sixth forms, as well as £100 million to cover colleges’ rising pensions costs.

Ofsted 'outstanding': a genuine beacon of excellence?

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, has previously called for the "outstanding" exemption to be lifted, so as to ensure that the rating is not devalued. 

She said: “We believe most schools judged 'outstanding' are still doing outstanding work. But for the 'outstanding' grade to be properly meaningful and a genuine beacon of excellence, the exemption should be lifted and Ofsted resourced to routinely inspect these schools.”

At the moment, “outstanding” providers and schools are visited only if concerns have been raised about their performance. 

report by the National Audit Office found that 296 schools had not been inspected for more than 10 years. In addition, 1,620 schools, most of them "outstanding", had not been inspected for six or more years. 

In the 2018-19 academic year, only 16 per cent of the “outstanding” schools that were inspected retained their status, compared with 33 per cent the previous year. 

Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of Association of Colleges, said:  “The DfE’s proposal to remove the Ofsted 'outstanding' exemption requires a change in the law to be effective, so won’t happen until September 2020 at the earliest, if at all.

"We agree with the chief inspector that this is the right thing to do, but we have concerns that it is already difficult for colleges to secure 'outstanding 'grades and that the new set of rules starting this month will make it even harder.”

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: "We think it is important for all providers to demonstrate their performance and that is maintained. But it shouldn’t divert the focus away from appropriate control and monitoring of new providers to ensure that all apprentices and learners have at least a good experience."

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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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