Ofsted’s annual report contained a huge rarity for FE this week: some good news!
Well, sort of.
The report, published on Tuesday, says that the overall performance of general FE colleges has improved in 2017-18. There is also an admission from the inspectorate that funding pressures on the sector are affecting its performance (anyone got five minutes to send a copy to FE minister Anne Milton?).
But what else can we dig out from the pages of Amanda Spielman’s second report as chief inspector?
* More than three-quarters of general FE colleges (76 per cent) were rated “good” or “outstanding” in their most recent inspection. Spielman writes that this is a “big improvement from last year” – in 2016-17 the proportion stood at 69 per cent.
* The report does, however, warn that “there is potential for a dilution in the quality of apprenticeships”. And a statement, which was issued alongside the report, identifies “common issues around poor governance, low-quality teaching and not enough off-the-job training”. Ofsted also raises concerns about the “access to apprenticeships for students who leave school without a full level 2 qualification”.
* A damning statement about FE funding was also included: “We are concerned about the financial sustainability of the college sector and the clear impact that real-terms cuts to FE funding can have on provision”. The report reveals that per-student spending in FE and sixth-form colleges “is now 11 per cent lower than for pupils at secondary school”. Fifteen of the 18 colleges that improved their overall grade to “good” were “thinking strategically about financial planning, their governance is robust and spending is focused on improving quality”.
* Post-16 English and maths also come in for some scrutiny. Although the report says that some colleges were providing “good and discrete” programmes, an “alternative and sometimes more successful strategy is to improve English and mathematics within the context of further technical and vocational study post-GCSE”.
The report adds that “we continue to be worried about the effectiveness of the government’s policy to require learners who have not achieved a grade 4 in English and/or mathematics to continue studying for a qualification in these subjects. Pass rates are low, at 24 per cent for English and 19 per cent for mathematics, and the impact of repeated ‘failure’ on students should not be underestimated”.
Resits, it adds, should not be pitched as a “punishment”, but instead as a “core part of vocational training”.