Further education providers have been left for as long as a decade without being subjected to a full inspection, TES can reveal.
According to new data from Ofsted, two providers were last inspected more than 10 years ago. Experts have warned that too much time is being allowed between visits, meaning providers’ performance could be at risk of deteriorating without oversight from Ofsted.
Employer Bright Horizons in Northamptonshire was last inspected in September 2005, when it received a grade 3 from the former Adult Learning Inspectorate, which became part of Ofsted in 2007. Also in 2005, Herefordshire-based independent training provider Riverside Training was rated outstanding. Neither has been inspected since.
Ofsted said both providers had ceased to be funded for some time and had therefore no longer been eligible for inspection, before returning to being funded again. This, the inspection body stressed, explained “the longer than usual gap between inspections”.
A further seven providers were last inspected in 2006, while 19 were most recently subjected to a full inspection in 2007.
A total of 180 FE providers have not had a full inspection by Ofsted in the past five years. And while many of those were rated outstanding, two of them received a “requires improvement” rating.
The figures also reveal that 13 FE providers that received a grade 3 or worse for quality of teaching have not had a full inspection in the past five years. Two, however, had a short inspection in October of this year, when it was acknowledged improvements had been made.
Over the past decade, the inspection framework for the FE and skills sector has been changed three times, meaning that providers are being assessed against very different criteria from those in use in 2005.
Routine full inspections of outstanding providers were abolished in 2012, with return visits by inspectors taking place only when concerns have been triggered through Ofsted’s risk-assessment process by, for example, a drop in grades or complaints by parents.
‘Too long between visits’
In September, Ofsted introduced shorter inspections every three years for schools and colleges rated good. The previous cycle had been five years. When first suggesting the change, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the gap was “too long between inspections to spot decline”. Current Ofsted guidance states that institutions found to require improvement would normally have a full reinspection within 12 to 24 months.
Jonathan Simons, head of education at thinktank Policy Exchange, said of the figures: “Thirteen institutions needing improvement haven’t had an inspection for five years – that’s a lifetime ago in policy and funding terms.
“If an institution is deemed to need to improve, especially where the climate is growing trickier, two years is a long time to leave it.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Our view is that all schools and colleges should be treated in the same way. There should be a consistent approach that looks at all provision in an agreed timescale. It is a concern that some of these providers have not been inspected in so long. Colleges and schools should be agents of their own quality, but there is also a place for external inspections to validate these systems.”
Truro and Penwith College in Cornwall has not been subjected to a full inspection since 2006. Principal David Walrond said the college worked to “guard against the risk of complacency” (see panel).
An Ofsted spokesman said the timescale for reinspection was determined by the provider’s most recent overall grade.
“Outstanding providers are only inspected where their performance drops. All providers, including those which are good or outstanding, are risk-assessed annually,” he said.
“Our risk-assessment process takes into account a range of available and relevant information.
“Any risks identified by Ofsted can lead to their inspection being brought forward.”
No ‘big visit’ for nine years
Truro and Penwith College in Cornwall can rightly call itself an outstanding-rated institution. But its last full inspection took place nine years ago – before Truro College had merged with Penwith College to create the institution in its current form.
Principal David Walrond says that the long gap (the college last received a monitoring visit in 2008) is a double-edged sword. “We don’t have the disturbance of a big visit, but we have to guard against the risk of complacency,” he says.
“Ofsted use a risk-based system, so in some ways we take it as a compliment. But we know that not having Ofsted in means we need to have a rigorous external audit and self-assessment system in place. We do take every opportunity to take any available external audit of our quality.” The college’s self-assessment is based on the Ofsted approach, he adds.