CHIEF colleges inspector Stephen Grix has issued a "health warning" in anticipation of poor grades expected for some colleges under the new inspection regime.
His comments were intended as a public relations damage-limitation exercise on behalf of five further education colleges which were selected to be the first to be inspected.
Mr Grix, post-16 chief at the Office for Standards in Education, says the wider remit will mean performance grades will not be comparable with previous FE funding council reports. Reports are still being compiled by his officials into the first five colleges: Teesside, Stockport, Suffolk, Brooklands and Redbridge.
"These inspections look at the whole remit, so it would be unfair to compare our inspections with those of the Further Education Funding Council," said Mr Grix, speaking this week in Cambridge at the post-16 conference, organised by the Association of Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges' Employers' Forum.
After his speech Mr Grix told FE Focus: "I think it is fair to say that what I'm trying to do is add a health warning as these inspections are different."
Hiting strongly that colleges could expect a radical departure from the confrontational style of former OFSTED chief inspector Chris Woodhead, Mr Grix said he would not be as ready to speak out publicly about standards:
"I think it would be unhelpful if I were to keep putting out opinions about these things with no evidence, but in any case, I don't think I will have that kind of profile".
The reports from three of the five first inspections are expected to be made public in the second week of July.
Other changes to the way inspectors work will include shorter reports and wording which is accessible to potential students who want to compare the quality of specific courses between colleges. Students' comments will also be included in report summaries.
In London, area inspections may cover zones which extend beyond individual local education authority boundaries, although it would not be practical, Mr Grix said, to stretch as far as a London learning and skills council boundary.
He emphasised his support for key skills, despite the fact that their instrumentation has proved a headache.