Sir Michael Wilshaw is a man known for having strong opinions on education – and not being afraid of voicing them. The Ofsted supremo was at it again in front of the education select committee this week, claiming that the FE sector was "in a mess" and calling for 16-19 students to be educated in schools instead of colleges. To say this left the sector incensed would be an understatement, as a brief glance through the comments on the TES FE News Facebook page will testify.
But Sir Michael stressed to MPs at the hearing that he was expressing his personal opinion, and not necessarily speaking on behalf of his organisation – an organisation from which he will be retiring later this year (implausible as it sounds, it seems that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector is getting even more outspoken in the twilight of his Ofsted career).
So is the rest of the inspectorate's workforce just as scathing about FE provision? By happy coincidence, this week sees Paul Joyce (pictured), Ofsted's deputy director for FE and skills, write his first column for TES. His take on things sounds eminently reasonable.
"To say that the further education and skills sector has been under pressure of late would be an understatement, but I have been impressed by the sector’s resolve to do well by learners," he writes. "As Ofsted’s deputy director for FE, I want to support providers in making this a key focus."
While Paul refrains – probably quite wisely – from making any sweeping statements about the overall performance of the FE sector, he acknowledges that he has been "impressed" with how the sector has responded to the new inspection framework. Providers, he writes, have "risen to the challenge". "The more we can dispel any myths, the more we can ensure that everyone is focused on learners getting the best training and education possible," he concludes.
And the best way of doing this is by communicating directly with the profession. So I'm delighted that Paul will be writing a column for TES Further every six weeks. And he has also agreed to use his column to answer questions readers may have about inspection. You can submit them via the @tesfenews Twitter account using the #AskOfsted hashtag. We'll compile them and put a selection of them to Paul, so he can respond in his next column. But a word of advice – you should probably keeep them clean.
You can read Paul Joyce's full article in the 4 March edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here