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Wilshaw: Colleges should 'get off their backsides and work harder'

Former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw describes colleges as the 'most underperforming' institutions in the education system

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Former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw describes colleges as the 'most underperforming' institutions in the education system

Colleges should “get off their backsides and work harder” to improve GCSE resit results, rather than complaining about the controversial policy, according to Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Sir Michael, an outspoken critic of the further education sector during his tenure as chief inspector of Ofsted, described colleges as “underperforming” and called for them to be subject to more scrutiny from government.

Speaking at last night’s Institute of Education public debate on the academic-vocational divide, Sir Michael said it was “hardly surprising” that “the most autonomous and the most unscrutinised institutions in our education system, not subject to [local education authority] or [regional schools commissioner] oversight, are the most underperforming”.

Many colleges, he told the audience, were “more interested in the completion of courses than their relevance to local or national employment needs”.


He said colleges were “underfunded” due to a lack of focus from politicians, because they largely offered courses “taken by other people’s children”.

Speaking about GCSE resits, Sir Michael said: “It’s hardly surprising that two-thirds of youngsters who didn’t achieve benchmark GCSE grades in English and maths at 16 didn’t achieve those grades two years later. And it’s no good the FE sector complaining about that, they should damn well get off their backsides and work harder to get them those GCSEs.”

To avoid reforms to technical education being “another false dawn”, Sir Michael called for a “heavyweight politician” to be put in charge of the sector.


“A junior minister in the Department for Education with a responsibility for skills, who may or may not stay very long, will simply no longer be acceptable,” he said. “A heavywight politician, a deputy prime minister perhaps, needs to take ownership of what is going to be a huge issue in post-Brexit Britain and sit across the departments of education, business  and employment, as well as the CBI and the chambers of commerce, to ensure all stakeholders work effectively. Especially small businesses, where most apprentices are employed and where most of the difficulties arise in relation to the training, finance and the administration of apprentices.”

Later in the debate, Sir Michael acknowledged that “I won’t be popular with the FE sector again” but, on the theme of mandatory GCSE resits, he added: “There will be people flocking to the court of the FE sector saying, ‘Well, it’s just too difficult’, ‘[students have] lost interest’, all the rest of it. That’s a nonsense.”

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