Colleges and schools should report on how they work together to educate young people in their local area, according to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).
Whereas colleges in England are inspected by Ofsted, routine inspections of Scottish colleges were scrapped in 2018 and replaced by evaluative report and enhancement plans, which set out the areas in which colleges believe themselves to be working well, and those aspects in need of improvement. Scottish schools are still subjected to routine inspection by Education Scotland.
But Dee Bird, the SFC’s assistant director for learning quality, told Tes that it was keen to look more closely at how schools and colleges were working together.
“One thing we would like to start doing is more joint evaluation so that schools and colleges are working together to evaluate how they are supporting learners,” she said.
Ms Bird stressed the plans were at an early stage, but “that is something we are looking at”.
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Working with partners
Scottish colleges' self-assessment reports provide evidence of trends in performance against outcome agreement measures and priorities, and their findings are then assessed by HMI inspectors from Education Scotland and the SFC. In the first reports, published earlier this year,12 of Scotland’s 26 FE colleges were graded “very good” for student outcomes.
Ms Bird explained that many colleges in Scotland were now becoming increasingly aware of the need for joint evaluation with partners – with schools, universities and employers. By working more closely with their partner schools to plan and evaluate activities, colleges could likely better support young people to make the transition from school to college.
“Schools and colleges together are responsible for young people making the right course choices and for smoothing the transition from school to college," she said. "Education Scotland and SFC are keen to promote and support a consistent approach to joint evaluation going forward."
This year’s self evaluation guidance for college outcome agreements – the documents that set out what colleges have to deliver in return for their government funding – asked institutions to look specifically at “recruitment, retention, attainment and progression”, Ms Bird said. “Colleges teach more and more school pupils, and are heavily recruiting from school and so they are linked.”
Ms Bird was speaking toTes after the SFC published its updated arrangements for assuring and improving the quality of provision and services in Scotland’s colleges.
The SFC’s new document, published last month, introduces so-called “progress visits”.
These focus on "challenging and supporting colleges to deliver on their enhancement plans", Ms Bird said. "We also want to use them to identify good practice and find ways to disseminate good practice. They will be carried out by HMI and supported by outcome agreement teams.”
Ms Bird stressed that the new visits would also help to boost the learner voice. “Progress visits are pre-planned – there are no surprise visits. Sparqs [Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland] is working with learners to prepare them to take part so that the learner voice is part of the process.
“We wanted to emphasise learner engagement. Student engagement is really important – as is employer engagement. We want colleges to be doing more with their local and regional employers and finding out how they are doing in their view. Learner engagement and employer engagement are things we really want to improve.”
According to Ms Bird, colleges in Scotland have responded well to the current approach to quality. “On the whole, the feedback has been good. Colleges generally like that they are taking more responsibility for evaluating their own progress. It is helping colleges to communicate better across the college, so that responsibility for evaluation and improvement is not just sitting with a few people. They have to make sure they are bringing everyone on board.
“The arrangements are all about continuous improvement, and this applies to the process of quality improvement itself . There is definitely room for improvement – both from the college side and from the SFC and Education Scotland side – and we want to work with the colleges to improve the whole process. That is improving a great deal. With the progress visits, there is an even greater opportunity for those relationships to be strengthened.”