Kelly axes adult inspectorate

16th December 2005 at 00:00
Post-19 watchdog will be folded into Ofsted empire. Steve Hook reports

The inspectorate which scrutinises the education and training of adults is to be swallowed up by Ofsted.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly announced that the Office for Standards in Education will become a super-inspectorate, covering all state-funded learning outside universities.

The move, which arises from a Treasury drive to cut the number of public bodies, comes just five years after the creation of the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

The ALI, responsible for post-19 education, carried out college inspections jointly with Ofsted and also reported on the performance of other training providers which use government funding.

Ms Kelly said: "I am convinced this change will bring benefits to users and providers of services, further reduce bureaucracy and cut the burden of inspection for those who deliver services."

Despite the notion of an all-encompassing body, teaching in universities will to continue to fall outside the inspection regime.

The ALI had made a name for itself through its willingness to criticise the Government as well as colleges and other training organisations.

A widely-publicised report into training in the armed services revealed a massive basic skills problem, even among soldiers serving in the front line. The document led to the FE Focus story on the scandal of the bomb disposal expert serving in Iraq who admitted he struggles with reading.

Even in its annual reports, the ALI was not afraid of making comments that would have made ministers feel at least as uncomfortable as those who did badly under his inspection regime.

In its annual report of 2004, the ALI warned that Government priorities neglected important areas of post-16 education. David Sherlock, the ALI's chief inspector, said that colleges needed to be more ready to "say no" to government demands and that policies needed to be made clearer if further education was to enjoy stability.

Mr Sherlock, a talented writer who appears every four weeks in the FE Focus "Backchat" slot, is not the stereotypical public-sector bureaucrat. His interests include an appreciation of literature and history as well as horses and the English countryside. He adopted a style for the organisation that was widely regarded as more sensitive than its big brother Ofsted's.

The ALI's 2003 annual report won the title "best government information publication" in the Charity and Public Service Publishing Awards, although Mr Sherlock's fondness for plain, even eloquent, English would not always have made him popular in Whitehall. Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: "He is an iconoclast but a terrific person with high principles who is robust and independent in his thinking, which you would expect a good inspector to be.

"When the ALI was being set up, we were opposed to it, but it is fair to say we have changed our mind. This is a real loss to adult education, which the ALI has done so much for over the years."

Peter Lavender, NIACE's director of research and development, said: "We risk losing the sensitivity and flexibility of the ALI approach, which has been exemplary." Richard Handover, chairman of the ALI, has agreed to head the board which will oversee the creation of the new super-inspectorate, to be known as the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills.

Mr Sherlock was not available for comment.

The new inspectorate is expected to be formed in April 2007.

It's shut, Sherlock: the closure is bad news for David Sherlock, the chief of ALI, who has been praised for adopting a more sensitive inspection approach than Ofsted's

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