Playing the Ofsted waiting game

26th August 2016 at 00:00
Colleges are still in the dark over when – or even if – Ofsted will introduce campus-level grades

Whatever happened to Ofsted’s proposals to bring in campus-level grades for colleges? In early July, FErret’s colleagues were told by the inspectorate that a consultation on giving separate grades for each campus, as part of inspections of institutions at corporation level, would be getting under way later that month.

Only, what with Brexit and the wholesale reorganisation of the machinery of government, this never happened. But, with the area reviews looking like a stepping stone on the way to fewer, larger colleges operating across several sites, the changing landscape poses a problem for Ofsted, and it is clear that change is needed.

As Joe Docherty, chief executive of NCG, the biggest college group of all, put it at the time: “Ofsted finds it practically impossible to inspect NCG and understand its constituent parts.”

And, without change to the inspection system, it could actually act as a deterrent to the formation of more college groups across the country. Think about it: if you were a successful college thinking of taking on another, underperforming institution, would you really want to risk your overall grade dropping if the inspection failed to acknowledge the strengths of your most successful constituent parts?

Would successful colleges really want to risk their overall grade dropping if the inspection failed to acknowledge the strengths of their most successful constituent parts?

Don't hold your breath

Within Whitehall, there finally seems to be an acknowledgement that Ofsted’s approach could inadvertently block the goal of ending up with fewer, more efficient and resilient colleges.

So are the plans still on the table? Before FE was hauled out of the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, FErret got wind that there was a risk that the post-EU-referendum budget cuts could have scuppered the programme. So what’s happening now that the Department for Education is in charge?

A DfE spokesman told FErret that campus-level grade plans were still on the table and the consultation would be published in due course.

When this will be is not yet clear. Given that it took three weeks from when Rob Halfon outed himself as the new apprenticeships and skills minister to the appointment being officially confirmed by the DfE, FErret’s not holding his breath that the consultation will start any time soon.

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