Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has stressed her desire to “reset” Ofsted’s relationship with the FE sector – and vowed not to make “unevidenced claims” about it.
In what appeared to be a clear attempt to draw a line under the combative approach to the FE sector, which characterised the leadership of her predecessor Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ms Spielman this morning said that she “will not be using my position at Ofsted to impose my personal views”.
In what marked a significant change in tone from Sir Michael, Ms Spielman also stressed that the GCSE English and maths resits policy was causing “significant problems”.
Ms Spielman was making her first major speech on FE at the Association of Colleges’ Ofsted conference in London.
'Resetting the relationship'
Calling for a “much more positive and purposeful conversation between Ofsted and the FE sector”, Ms Spielman said: “I want to use today to reset that relationship. I want to say, from the outset, that I see my role as chief inspector as an enabling one: one that gets the most from the valuable work you do.
“In practice, that means I will not be using my position at Ofsted to impose my personal views, or to make unevidenced claims about the sector. What I am interested in is collecting inspection evidence, analysing it rigorously and reporting it objectively.”
Ms Spielman said that while “a focus on English and maths is an indisputable priority”, questions had to be asked, given the “frankly miserable” pass rates, whether it is “the right way forward”.
“Around two thirds of students overall did not improve their grade,” she added. “That is such a waste.”
Sir Michael’s tenure at the helm of Ofsted was characterised by repeated criticisms of the FE sector.
In 2016, he argued that 16-19 education was done better in schools than colleges, slammed the "alarming rate of underperformance and failure" in colleges and, in his parting shot, insisted that the sector should not be “let off the hook” over GCSE resits.
David Hughes, chief executive of the AoC, said: "I was very pleased that the new HMCI Amanda Spielman chose our conference to make her first major speech on post-16 education. It was also pleasing that she has recognised the important role of colleges and proposed a "positive and purposeful conversation" with the sector. It is clear she is committed to Ofsted inspecting colleges based on evidence and wants to ensure that Ofsted truly is an agent for quality improvement, not just of quality measurement.
"We have been working hard to highlight the difficulties in making the current English and maths GCSE resits policy work effectively. It is a challenge for every college and we believe has enormous consequences for college inspection outcomes. It is therefore very welcome news to hear Amanda supporting the call for the government to reconsider its approach to this policy as well as acknowledging the need for inspectors to recognise the scale of the English and maths challenge which colleges face. I look forward to working closely with Amanda and her team to further develop this new relationship for the benefit of colleges and students."