Top grades for student progress

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Assessment report finds most colleges and providers score highly, but questions raised over qualification success rates

More than 95 per cent of colleges and training providers have been rated good or outstanding at helping their students progress to employment or higher qualifications.

The results of the first Framework for Excellence assessment have also shown that on most measures only a tiny proportion of providers - less than one in 100 - are inadequate.

But the results raised questions about the qualification success rates of some providers: nearly 20 per cent were rated inadequate on this measure.

However, the Learning and Skills Council said that equated to just 11 per cent of students at inadequate providers. Those figures imply that a substantial number of small providers achieving low success rates had dragged the scores down.

The funding body also points out that in 2007-08, the year to which the scores refer, overall success rates rose by 2.6 per cent and are ahead of target.

Employers' views of FE were very favourable, although the reliability of the results was weakened by a low response rate to survey questions, with just 219 providers graded on this measure, compared with 989 for success rates.

But 45 per cent of them rated the provision outstanding, with just under 20 per cent saying it was good.

The numbers rated outstanding also include any provider who has achieved the Training and Quality Standard, since the LSC regards its employer engagement tests to be more stringent than the framework's survey.

Students also had a favourable view of their education in colleges and with training providers: 53 per cent rated them as good, and a further 15 per cent as outstanding.

Joy Mercer, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, welcomed the positive results for FE. But she said some measures, such as learners' views, needed to be interpreted with care.

"There are some indications that the better the success rate, the lower learner satisfaction is going to be," she said.

"The more articulate learners are, the more critical they become. And if a college is really strict about attendance policy and automatically sends letters home when they're absent, that's a good system. But students don't like it."

She said the assessment's real value would only come when colleges could be compared against school sixth forms to help students make an informed choice.

Framework for Excellence was designed as a set of universal indicators across all post-16 provision that would help schools, colleges and training firms to improve, and operate as a consumer guide for employers and students. A trial for school sixth forms will run over 2009-10.

Full publication of scores by institution, rather than overall headline figures, has been delayed until next year. Measures such as employer views and learner views were always intended to be held back in the first year while the survey methodology was tested.

But concerns from providers prompted the LSC to hold back all individual scores. For instance, colleges said they had concerns about the reliability of grading success rates.

Lesley Davies, director of Framework for Excellence and quality at the LSC, said: "We hope the sector will use this to improve the quality of their own provision and what they offer to learners and employers."

She said despite providers' concerns, they had shown a "brilliant" commitment to working with the LSC towards full publication of results by colleges and training firms next year.

Short on indicators

A lack of raw data made it largely impossible to generate performance indicators for many private learning providers, according to the Framework for Excellence headline outcomes.

Just under a third of them had enough data to support six or more PI grades. By comparison, there was enough data to furnish 99 per cent of general FE and specialist colleges with six or more grades.

The headline outcomes report said many independent providers (181) had only been contracted by the Learning and Skills Council in 2007-08 and 2008-09, so there was too little historical data from which to calculate grades.

The Association of Learning Providers, representing the independents, said it was supportive of the indicators.

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