Thousands of students are not getting the education they deserve due to "too many" colleges failing to improve quickly enough, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has said.
Ms Spielman, speaking today at the Association of Colleges’ annual conference in Birmingham, said that several thousands of learners in colleges with Ofsted grades of either "inadequate" or "requires improvement" were not getting the level of education they deserve, because senior leaders were either failing to identify the "early signs of deterioration", or not doing enough to fix them.
“Too many grade 3 colleges failed to improve quickly enough to become good or outstanding at re-inspection. Taken together, this means that several thousands of students are in colleges where not everybody is getting the level of education and training they deserve,” Ms Spielman said.
“In these colleges, too often we observe senior leaders, including governors, actually, failing to spot the early signs of deterioration of standards or to do enough to rectify them, and teachers who aren’t stretching their students enough," she added.
Funding 'considerably' lower
Ms Spielman acknowledged that funding was a critical concern for many struggling colleges. “For colleges that are struggling to deliver the best for their students, I do appreciate that the level of challenge and change in the sector has been a factor," Ms Spielman said. “I recognise that funding levels are considerably lower than any other part of the education system, and I recently drew to the attention of the [House of Commons] Education Select Committee to this."
Ms Spielman said that in addition to funding constraints and real term cuts to pay for staff, the government’s reforms to technical education had also created its own unique challenges for colleges. She pledged that Ofsted would revise its methodology for inspecting apprenticeship provision in colleges in order "to fit the new world of apprenticeships", with pilot inspections already planned. "These will make sure that our inspection practice stays focused on the right things," she said.
Ms Spielman added that more needed to be done to improve the progression rates of learners going from level 2 qualifications to embarking on an apprenticeship programme, with less than 10 per cent of students doing so.
“Much more needs to be done to encourage these young people to take up apprenticeships,” Ms Spielman said. “We know it can be done. In one college visited for our survey, nearly one in four students was going on to apprenticeships from a level 2 programmes – thanks to the commitment of the college leadership and the design of the curriculum. This is where the apprenticeship reform programme does present real opportunities for you as a sector."
Speaking to delegates, Ms Spielman also said that, with new providers and employers entering the market due to the apprenticeship levy, she wanted to "reassure" colleges that Ofsted would be keeping an eye on them.
"While it is early days in terms of understanding how many new providers are entering the apprenticeship market, I do want to reassure you, our existing and experienced providers, that Ofsted will be monitoring these newcomers closely," Ms Spielman said. "I can announce today that I have asked my inspectors, to do some early monitoring visits to a sample of new providers over the coming months. This will allow us to evaluate how well prepared these providers are.”
“With the recent experience of Learndirect fresh in all of our minds, I have no doubt all of you are acutely aware of the risks faced when large sums of money flow into the system, with insufficient quality control."